Cheats as first propagules: A new hypothesis for the evolution of individuality during the transition from single cells to multicellularity

Authors

  • Paul B. Rainey,

    Corresponding author
    1. New Zealand Institute for Advanced Study and Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology & Evolution, Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand
    • New Zealand Institute for Advanced Study, Massey University, Private Bag 102904, North Shore Mail Centre 0745, Auckland, New Zealand.
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Benjamin Kerr

    1. Department of Biology, University of Washington, Box 351800 Seattle, Washington 98195, USA
    Search for more papers by this author

Abstract

The emergence of individuality during the evolutionary transition from single cells to multicellularity poses a range of problems. A key issue is how variation in lower-level individuals generates a corporate (collective) entity with Darwinian characteristics. Of central importance to this process is the evolution of a means of collective reproduction, however, the evolution of a means of collective reproduction is not a trivial issue, requiring careful consideration of mechanistic details. Calling upon observations from experiments, we draw attention to proto-life cycles that emerge via unconventional routes and that transition, in single steps, individuality to higher levels. One such life cycle arises from conflicts among levels of selection and invokes cheats as a primitive germ line: it lays the foundation for collective reproduction, the basis of a self-policing system, the selective environment for the emergence of development, and hints at a plausible origin for a soma/germ line distinction.

Ancillary