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The evolution of multicellularity


We aim to experimentally investigate how complex multicellular life evolves from simple unicellular organisms. When multicellularity evolved on planet Earth, it opened key gateways towards innovation and complexity. Hence, studying the evolution of multicellularity is crucial for discerning how biological complexity evolves. However, although this transition has occurred repeatedly across all three domains of life, it has left severely limited fossil evidence. Hence, to study how and why multicellularity evolves, we try to recreate this evolutionary transition in the lab.

Phenotypic plasticity can facilitate in the evolution of multicellularity

Phenotypic plasticity enables a single genotype to exhibit contrasting phenotypes in different environments. We have recently shown that such plasticity can also help bacteria in evolving macroscopic multicellularity.


Escherichia coli (wild type ancestor)


We showed that such plastic phenotypes can act as leaders and genes can act as the followers in the evolution of multicellularity:


Using experimental evolution, we evolved bacteria that are obligately (constitutively) multicellular:


The spectacular macroscopic multicellularity of our experimentally evolved bacteria make them ideal model systems to conduct pioneering experiments to evolve cell differentiation de novo in the laboratory (this is going to be a major focal area in our lab):


We also want to experimentally test if cell differentiation can evolve in response to some specific kinds of predation:


Apart from these questions, we would also like to investigate the following:

1. Can phenotypic plasticity facilitate the co-existence of otherwise antagonistic species?

2. How and why do asexual populations of different sizes manage to cross fitness valleys?


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