Genetics of a novel origin of multicellularity

PI: Matthew D. Herron, University of Montana
Awarded form 2013

The ultimate goal of this research is to understand the origins of multicellular development and cellular differentiation as examples of evolutionary increases in complexity. This goal directly corresponds to the Evolution of Advanced Life emphasis in NASA’s Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology program, which addresses the “…origin and early evolution of those biological factors that are essential to multicellular life, such as developmental programs… and differentiation.” In the NASA Astrobiology Roadmap, the corresponding goal is Production of Complex Life, the aim of which is to “Investigate the pathways and mechanisms that increased the complexity of life from microbial communities through successive levels of multicellularity” (Des Marais et al., 2008). This work dovetails nicely with the goals of Early Evolution of Life and the Biosphere by addressing two questions arising from this focus: Once life has arisen, what are the likelihood and the necessary conditions in which it will increase in complexity? What are the evolutionary and developmental processes by which this increase in complexity occurs? In addition, some of the principles involved in the evolution of multicellularity, particularly the need for heritability to emerge at a new level, apply to other watershed events in evolution, such as the origins of life, of the eukaryotes, and of eusocial “superorganisms”.

Contact Info


Matthew D. Herron
Division of Biological Sciences
32 Campus Drive, University of Montana
Missoula, MT 59812

Phone: (406) 243-4857
Fax: (406) 243-4184
Website: None
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