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Keywords:

  • biological complexity;
  • conflict;
  • cooperation;
  • experimental evolution;
  • multi-level selection

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.