On the origin of biological construction, with a focus on multicellularity

Jordi Van Gestel, Corina E. Tarnita

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

23 Scopus citations

Abstract

Biology is marked by a hierarchical organization: all life consists of cells; in some cases, these cells assemble into groups, such as endosymbionts or multicellular organisms; in turn, multicellular organisms sometimes assemble into yet other groups, such as primate societies or ant colonies. The construction of new organizational layers results from hierarchical evolutionary transitions, in which biological units (e.g., cells) form groups that evolve into new units of biological organization (e.g., multicellular organisms). Despite considerable advances, there is no bottom-up, dynamical account of how, starting from the solitary ancestor, the first groups originate and subsequently evolve the organizing principles that qualify them as new units. Guided by six central questions, we propose an integrative bottom-up approach for studying the dynamics underlying hierarchical evolutionary transitions, which builds on and synthesizes existing knowledge. This approach highlights the crucial role of the ecology and development of the solitary ancestor in the emergence and subsequent evolution of groups, and it stresses the paramount importance of the life cycle: only by evaluating groups in the context of their life cycle can we unravel the evolutionary trajectory of hierarchical transitions. These insights also provide a starting point for understanding the types of subsequent organizational complexity. The central research questions outlined here naturally link existing research programs on biological construction (e.g., on cooperation, multilevel selection, self-organization, and development) and thereby help integrate knowledge stemming from diverse fields of biology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11018-11026
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume114
Issue number42
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 17 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General

Keywords

  • Animal sociality
  • Bottom-up approach
  • Hierarchical evolutionary transitions
  • Life cycle
  • Major evolutionary transitions

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