Complexity Explorer Santa Fe Institute

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IN DEVELOPMENT: Multicellularity Modules

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About the Tutorial:

How did complex multicellular life arise from the single-celled microorganisms that defined life on Earth for billions of years? The rise of multicellular organisms drove a profound diversification of life that fundamentally changed Earth's ecology, yet little is known about how this major evolutionary transition occurred. This is largely due to the fact that most multicellular lineages are ancient, and early steps in this transition have been obscured by extinction. We can overcome this limitation with a novel laboratory system, experimentally evolving simple multicellularity in Baker's yeast. Over thousands of generations of laboratory evolution, these cluster-forming 'snowflake yeast' evolve a suite of multicellular adaptations, including larger cluster size, an elevated rate of programmed cell death, and a more hydrodynamic profile. We can use this model system to examine how novel multicellular traits arise in evolution, and will determine whether a fundamental developmental mechanism, the single-celled bottleneck that most multicellular organisms pass through (e.g., a single fertilized egg), improves the ability of natural selection to act on these emergent multicellular traits. 

Program Support   This content is made possible through the support of the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1656849 (PI, Eric Libby), Collaborative Research: Origin of multicellular complexity in experimentally-evolved Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the investigator(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

About the Instructor(s):

Eric Libby's portraitEric Libby is a research affiliate of the Santa Fe Institute and an assistant professor at Umeå University (Sweden), where he splits his time between the Mathematics Department and the interdisciplinary research environment IceLab. He is captivated by the diverse spectrum of life and seeks general principles and fundamental theory that explain its emergence and evolution. He is particularly interested in the evolution of biological complexity – the origins of multicellularity, life cycles, syntrophy, and organizational scales. His research focuses on how simple organisms evolve into complex ones. This topic is not only fascinating but it is fundamental to understanding the evolution and ecology of life – both on earth and elsewhere in the “verse”.

Follow him @SFI_elibby.

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