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Why is our world mostly unicellular? Co-existence of uni-multicellularity in the adaptation of collective action in Kluyveromyces lactis
Although multicellularity has had a significant impact on the world, most life still consists of unicellular organisms. The transition to multicellular life is a crucial event in evolution that has been the subject of extensive research. However, there has been limited investigation into the effects of this transition on contemporary unicellular life.
In this study, we experimentally evolved Kluyveromyces lactis to develop collective action. We discovered that in all of our K. lactis lineages, unicellular organisms were able to persist alongside an evolved multicellular form, which we called the "snowflake" phenotype. We investigated the genetic basis of each phenotype and reconstructed the evolutionary trajectories of each population. Population genomic analysis demonstrated that the evolution of the multicellular snowflake phenotype altered the selection pressure on the remaining unicells, opening up alternative evolutionary pathways. Previously, the evolution of multicellularity was often viewed as a competitive outcome against unicellular organisms. However, our results showed that multicellularity can actually provide new niches for unicellular organisms and promote multi-unicellular coexistence.
I am currently an Assistant Professor of Biology at Grinnell College. I hold a M.S. degree from Ocean University of China where I conducted research on the diversity of marine ciliated protozoa, focusing on phylogeny reconstruction. I received my PhD in Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior from the University of Minnesota in 2021. My research interest is in the origin of diversity. I use microbial experimental evolution and molecular genetics analysis to tackle questions related to major evolutionary transitions such as multicellularity.