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Keywords:

  • cellular differentiation;
  • development;
  • evolution;
  • palintomy;
  • Volvox

The volvocine green algal genus Volvox includes ∼20 species with diverse sizes (in terms of both diameter and cell number), morphologies, and developmental programs. Two suites of characters are shared among distantly related lineages within Volvox. The traits characteristic of all species of Volvox—large (>500) numbers of small somatic cells, much smaller numbers of reproductive cells, and oogamy in sexual reproduction—have three or possibly four separate origins. In addition, some species have evolved a suite of developmental characters that differs from the ancestral developmental program. Most multicellular volvocine algae, including some species of Volvox, share an unusual pattern of cell division known as palintomy or multiple fission. Asexual reproductive cells (gonidia) grow up to many times their initial size and then divide several times in rapid succession, with little or no growth between divisions. Three separate Volvox lineages have evolved a reduced form of palintomy in which reproductive cells are small and grow between cell divisions. In each case, these changes are accompanied by a reduction in the rate of cell division and by a requirement of light for cell division to occur. Thus, two suites of characters—those characteristic of all Volvox species and those related to reduced palintomy—have each evolved convergently or in parallel in lineages that diverged at least 175 million years ago (mya).