Adaptation, chance, and history in experimental evolution reversals to unicellularity

María Rebolleda-Gómez, Michael Travisano

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Evolution is often deemed irreversible. The evolution of complex traits that require many mutations makes their reversal unlikely. Even in simpler traits, reversals might become less likely as neutral or beneficial mutations, with deleterious effects in the ancestral context, become fixed in the novel background. This is especially true in changes that involve large reorganizations of the organism and its interactions with the environment. The evolution of multicellularity involves the reorganization of previously autonomous cells into a more complex organism; despite the complexity of this change, single cells have repeatedly evolved from multicellular ancestors. These repeated reversals to unicellularity undermine the generality of Dollo's law. In this article, we evaluated the dynamics of reversals to unicellularity from recently evolved multicellular phenotypes of the brewers yeast Saccharomyces cerevisae. Even though multicellularity in this system evolved recently, it involves the evolution of new levels of selection. Strong selective pressures against multicellularity lead to rapid reversibility to single cells in all of our replicate lines, whereas counterselection favoring multicellularity led to minimal reductions to the rates of reversal. History and chance played an important role in the tempo and mode of reversibility, highlighting the interplay of deterministic and stochastic events in evolutionary reversals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)73-83
Number of pages11
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank Emilie Snell-Rood, Ruth Shaw, Alan Love, and Melanie Bowman for their feedback and thoughtful comments. This work was developed as part of MRG doctoral dissertation with support from ICGC as well as the IDF and DDF fellowships from the graduate school at the University of Minnesota. M.T. is funded by the John Templeton Foundation. This work was supported by NSF grant DEB-1051115. The authors have no conflicting interests to declare.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 The Author(s). Evolution published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. on behalf of The Society for the Study of Evolution.


  • Experimental evolution
  • historical contingency
  • multicellularity
  • natural selection
  • reversibility


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