A selective explanation for the evolution of multicellular organisms from unicellular ones requires knowledge of both selective pressures and factors affecting the response to selection. Understanding the response to selection is particularly challenging in the case of evolutionary transitions in individuality, because these transitions involve a shift in the very units of selection. We develop a conceptual framework in which three fundamental processes (growth, division, and splitting) are the scaffold for unicellular and multicellular life cycles alike. We (i) enumerate the possible ways in which these processes can be linked to create more complex life cycles, (ii) introduce three genes based on growth, division and splitting that, acting in concert, determine the architecture of the life cycles, and finally, (iii) study the evolution of the simplest five life cycles using a heuristic model of coupled ordinary differential equations in which mutations are allowed in the three genes. We demonstrate how changes in the regulation of three fundamental aspects of colonial form (cell size, colony size, and colony cell number) could lead unicellular life cycles to evolve into primitive multicellular life cycles with group properties. One interesting prediction of the model is that selection generally favors cycles with group level properties when intermediate body size is associated with lowest mortality. That is, a universal requirement for the evolution of group cycles in the model is that the size-mortality curve be U-shaped. Furthermore, growth must decelerate with size.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by NASA award NNX13AH41G and by National Science Foundation (NSF) award MCB-1412395 .
© 2015 Elsevier Inc.