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A Sourcebook for the Worldwide Discovery of a Creative Organic Universe
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VI. Earth Life Emergence: A Development of Body, Brain, Selves and Societies

5. Multicellular Fauna and Flora Organisms

We next move on to complex creatures of every plume and stripe. As we saw, again impelled by self-organization and selection, unitary cells continued to clump, associate and combine into larger multicellular animal and plant communities. In so doing, diverse, modular organs were formed which altogether evolved into unitary variegated, mobile, oxygen-breathing, land-living creatures with nervous systems, brains and proactive behavior. Diverse, adaptive environmental vegetation, which contributed in turn to a supportive atmosphere, similarly flourished.

Cooperation and Major Evolutionary Transitions. www.kitp.ucsb.edu/activities/dbdetails?acro=multicell-c13. A shorter Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics workweek held at the University of California, Santa Barbara, February 4 – 8, 2013. We note in regard to the Kavli “Cooperation and the Evolution of Multicellularity” seminar above, and for its cogent synopsis next .

Cooperation between individuals occurs throughout the biological world. It is one of the most intriguing and least understood phenomena despite its profound consequences and its enduring impact on the history of life. Strikingly similar patterns of cooperative behavior appear across the hierarchies of biological structures: genes have cooperated to form genomes, cells can be organized into multicellular organisms, organisms into societies, and species into ecologies. While analogies between mechanisms of cooperation at different levels of organization suggest themselves, general principles have been difficult to pin down. The evolution of biological complexity, the premier example of which is the origin of multicellularity, involves countless interactions between individuals and the fundamental question remains: Why and how do individuals at one level cooperate to form increasingly more complex levels of biological organization?

There are signs that the study of cooperation and its evolution is entering a new period, as theoretical advances meet with advances in molecular biology, genomics and cell biology. The new tools and technologies available to observe and manipulate genes, cells, microorganisms and collectives have resulted in new experimentally tractable systems and new data to probe classical ideas of fitness, the structure of communities, and the evolution of cooperation. To integrate these advances, this conference brings together eminent researchers in a variety of disciplines; from philosophers and theorists, to genomicists, physicists and molecular biology empiricists. The aim is to draw on a range of expertise revolving around the central notion of cooperation, where we hope the interplay of theory and experiment can provide the foundation for new collaborative work in the field. The conference is provisionally divided broadly into 5 groupings: (i) Cooperation and major evolutionary transitions; (ii) Origin and evolution of genomes: selfish genes, cooperative genes and the origin of life; (iii) Co-evolution of protein interactions; (iv) Mutualisms and molecules: Mitochondria and chloroplasts; and (v) Evolution of sex / insect societies.

Cooperation and the Evolution of Multicellularity. www.kitp.ucsb.edu/activities/dbdetails?acro=multicell13. A Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics workshop at the University of California, Santa Barbara from January to March, 2013. Coordinators are David Bensimon, Cassandra Extavour, Greg Huber, and Richard Michod. We enter as an example of the nascent mainstream admission, after decades, that such relational reciprocities are equally real and prevalent amongst creaturely assemblies from microbes to hominins, and serve to propel life toward viable multiples. See also herein a companion week study of Major Transitions.

This program will bring together theorists and experimentalists to explore the mystery of how and why single cells subsumed their fitness in favor of multicellular collectives and, further, how and why groups of cells evolved into multicellular individuals. A variety of theoretical and experimental approaches will be represented during the program, many revolving around the central notion of cooperation. Cooperation occurs throughout the biological world, and strikingly similar patterns of cooperative organization appear across the hierarchies of biological structures: Genes organize into genomes, cells into multicellular organisms, organisms into institutions and societies, and species into ecologies. While deep analogies between mechanisms at one such level of organization and mechanisms at another level suggest themselves, general organizing principles have often been greeted with controversy.

There are signs that the study of cooperation and its evolution is entering a new period, as theoretical advances meet with advances in molecular biology, genomics and cell biology, allowing greater access to the deepest levels of the underlying machinery acted on by natural selection. The new tools and technologies available to observe and manipulate genes, cells, microorganisms and collectives have resulted in new experimentally tractable systems and new data to probe classical ideas of fitness, the structure of communities, and the evolution of cooperation. We have organized a program where we hope the interplay of theory and experiment can provide the foundation for new collaborative work in this field.

ICREA Conference on the Evolution of Multicellularity. www.multicellularity2013.com/index. ICREA = Institucio Catalana de Recefica I Estudis Avancats. An international meeting sponsored by this Spanish research institute to be held in Barcelona, September 30 – October 1, 2013. Its organizers are Aurora Nedelcu, Ricard Sole, and Iñaki Ruiz-Trillo. Notable speakers in regard include Richard Michod, Douglas Erwin, Stuart Newman, and Maja Adamska.

The transition to multicellular life represents one of the most important events in the history of life. Yet, despite its significance, little is known about the mechanisms involved in this transition. In recent years, emerging data from various fields are providing new insights into this major evolutionary transition. With advances in theoretical, molecular/cell biology and genomics approaches, there is a clear need for further conversation and collaborative efforts between experimentalists and theoreticians.

The ICREA Conference on the Evolution of Multicellularity will bring together researchers with diverse backgrounds with the goal of stimulating and fostering inter-disciplinary discussion and collaborations. The talks will be
organized around six mini-symposia encompassing the major topics and approaches related to the evolution of multicellularity. The six symposia
are: 1) Origins and mechanisms; 2) Development and Gene regulation; 3) Genomics approaches and insights; 4) Theoretical approaches; 5) Social
Evolution; 6) Computational and synthetic approaches.

Arnellos, Argyris, et al. Organizational Requirements for Multicellular Autonomy: Insights from a Comparative Case Study. Biology and Philosophy. 29/6, 2014. With Alvaro Moreno and Kepa Ruiz-Mirazo, (search) University of the Basque Country philosophers of science continue to explain the occasions of life and cellular beings. By 2014, life’s evolution can be broadly sketched as a nested, repetitive emergence of whole entities. The paper proposes that the process is carried out by autonomous, proactive candidates who “regulate their own development” as they become “a self-determining collective entity.” In a deep, inherent way living systems are seen to make themselves via a “self-constructed developmental logic.” This scenario then accords with the major transitions scale as distinguished by this appropriate information venue. As a follow-up paper, see Multicellular Agency{ An Organizational View in the same journal, online March 2015.

In this paper we explore the organizational conditions underlying the emergence of organisms at the multicellular level. More specifically, we shall propose a general theoretical scheme according to which a multicellular organism is an ensemble of cells that effectively regulates its own development through collective (meta-cellular) mechanisms of control of cell differentiation and cell division processes. This theoretical result derives from the detailed study of the ontogenetic development of three multicellular systems (Nostoc punctiforme, Volvox carteri and Strongylocentrotus purpuratus) and, in particular, of their corresponding cell-to-cell signaling networks.

The case study supports our claim that a specific type of functional integration among the cells of a multicellular ensemble (namely, a regulatory control system consisting in several inter-cellular mechanisms that modulate epigenesis and whose operation gets decoupled from the intra-cellular metabolic machinery), is required for it to qualify as a proper organism. Finally, we argue why a multicellular system exhibiting this type of functionally differentiated and integrated developmental organization becomes a self-determining collective entity and, therefore, should be considered as a second-order autonomous system. (Abstract)

Since the very beginning of life on Earth, biological entities have assembled into groups, bringing forth several types of relatively stable associations. Unicellular organisms from temporary microbial aggregates, mats, biofilms, prokaryotic and eukaryotic multicellular (MC) ensembles; eukaryotic cells result from the symbiotic associations of prokaryotic cells; colonial groupings or more integrated societies consist of MC systems. All these associations, apart from generating specific mechanisms to foster interactions and the maintenance of relatively cohesive forms of collective organization, also tend to occupy new niches and to increase the possibilities of survival of the constituting units and of the associations themselves, as a whole, so they seem to operate as organisms. (852)

Bejan, Adrian and James Marden. Constructing Animal Locomotion from New Thermodynamic Theory. American Scientist. July/August, 2006. Running, flying, and swimming are based on a common physics by which to optimally utilize the flow of energy. This “constructural theory” is then said to channel evolution into similar pathways and forms, rather than fall to sheer contingency.

Bittleston, Leonora, et al. Convergence in Multispecies Interactions. Trends in Ecology and Evolution. Online January, 2016. Harvard University biologists show how life’s avail and reuse of the same basic pattern and process over and over in kind can be similarly seen for dynamic, behavioral activities across the fauna and flora bioregions. Once again, from another take, Earth evolution indeed appears to have an innate, constrained form, development, and course.

The concepts of convergent evolution and community convergence highlight how selective pressures can shape unrelated organisms or communities in similar ways. We propose a related concept, convergent interactions, to describe the independent evolution of multispecies interactions with similar physiological or ecological functions. A focus on convergent interactions clarifies how natural selection repeatedly favors particular kinds of associations among species. Characterizing convergent interactions in a comparative context is likely to facilitate prediction of the ecological roles of organisms (including microbes) in multispecies interactions and selective pressures acting in poorly understood or newly discovered multispecies systems. We illustrate the concept of convergent interactions with examples: vertebrates and their gut bacteria; ectomycorrhizae; insect–fungal–bacterial interactions; pitcher-plant food webs; and ants and ant–plants. (Abstract)

We define convergent interactions as the independent emergence of multispecies interactions with similar physiological or ecological functions. We define ecological function as the role a species plays in an interaction, community, or ecosystem, for example, the excretion of essential amino acids by an endosymbiotic bacterium or the decomposition of dead leaves by an insect detritivore. Our definition of convergent interactions is purposefully broad and can be used to generate hypotheses about many kinds of ecological relationships. (1)

Bogdan, Paul, et al. Heterogeneous Structure of Stem Cells Dynamics. Nature Scientific Reports. 4/4826, 2014. Researchers from the University of Southern California, University of Pittsburgh, and Carnegie Mellon University note that after years of study, stem cells, “defined as unspecialized cell that can self-renew and give rise to differentiated cell types during embryogenesis, and in the adult, during tissue homeostasis or injury repair,” are still not well understood. To resolve, a new approach via complex systems science is enlisted. Stem cell populations are seen to form non-random collective sub-states which take on a fractal self-similarity. By this approach, a mathematical, quantitative model of better predictive value can be achieved. Although not cited, these patterns are also akin to microbial colonies. And from the quote, might we imagine all told a mutual “correlative cosmology”?

The fractal behavior we observe in stem cell DTs (Division Time) identifies a stochastic process that displays a probability density function that is self-similar in nature, i.e., the distribution of cell DTs at one scale can be retrieved from that of another scale by using the fractal dimension and a scaling coefficient. Simply speaking, the existence of fractal statistics in stem cell DTs implies that the birth of a new cell is not a random (i.e., uncorrelated) event from the development of previous ones. In other words, there is some form of correlation between cell divisions and this leads to a complex behavior which cannot be quantified by current mathematical models of stem cell growth. (9)

Bonner, John. First Signals. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000. A veteran biologist reviews his decades of inquiry into the appearance of multicellular and communal complexity. In so doing, strong parallels are found between the stages of organic development and animal behavior.

Bonner, John. Perspective: The Size-Complexity Rule. Evolution. 58/9, 2004. The Princeton biologist and author finds a steady increase in the number of cell types and divisions of labor with larger bodily size. This relation holds from small algae to animals, plants and even for human societies.

Brusalte, Stephen and Zhe-Xi Luo. Ascent of the Mammals. Scientific American. May, 2016. University of Edinburgh and University of Chicago paleontologists relate new evidence about how pervasive and robust was the evolutionary appearance of marsupial and placental organisms, even before the asteroid did in the dinosaurs. As another example of the 21st century transition to worldwide scientific progress, it is said that in the past 15 years a burst of findings has fleshed out a train of creatures “from shrew to you.” And while viewing this two page spread, one wonders what global cognizant entity has now emerged that is moved and able to so reconstruct from whence it came. What kind of universe seems to require and be able to achieve its own self-reconstruction, witness, and new intentional creation?

Butterfield, Nicholas. Animals and the Invention of the Phanerozoic Earth System. Trends in Ecology and Evolution. 26/2, 2011. A Cambridge University scientist offers a novel insight as to how this era which covers the whole time since the Cambrian period some 540 mya to date has been largely affected by the presence of creaturely species. As multicellular organisms dubbed “pelagic eumetazoa” rose to upper seas levels and land living they became “ecosystems engineers” for all manner of niches, along with a major effects on the biosphere.

Animals do not just occupy the modern biosphere, they permeate its structure and define how it works. Their unique combination of organ-grade multicellularity, motility and heterotrophic habit makes them powerful geobiological agents, imposing myriad feedbacks on nutrient cycling, productivity and environment. Most significantly, animals have ‘engineered’ the biosphere over evolutionary time, forcing the diversification of, for example, phytoplankton, land plants, trophic structure, large body size, bioturbation, biomineralization and indeed the evolutionary process itself. This review surveys how animals contribute to the modern world and provides a basis for reconstructing ancient ecosystems. Earlier, less animal-influenced biospheres worked quite differently from the one currently occupied, with the Ediacaran–Cambrian radiation of organ-grade animals marking a fundamental shift in macroecological and macroevolutionary expression. (Abstract)

Celiker, Hasan and Jeff Gore. Cellular Cooperation: Insights from Microbes. Trends in Cell Biology. 23/1, 2012. MIT biophysicists Celiker, a Turkish-American graduate student, and Gore, an assistant professor and director of the MIT Evolutionary Systems Biology Laboratory offer a sophisticated quantification from a bacterial basis of how life consistently evolves and forms by a balance of diversity and unity toward more complex organisms. And so many of these reports beg an independent genetic-like source that so informs and is manifest in these nested iterations. See also by the authors “Competition between Species can Stabilize Public-Goods Cooperation within a Species” in Molecular Systems Biology (8/621, 2012).

Cooperation between cells is a widespread phenomenon in nature, found across diverse systems ranging from microbial populations to multicellular organisms. For cooperation to evolve and be maintained within a population of cells, costs due to competition have to be outweighed by the benefits gained through cooperative actions. Because cooperation generally confers a cost to the cooperating cells, defector cells that do not cooperate but reap the benefits of cooperation can thrive and eventually drive the cooperating phenotypes to extinction. Here we summarize recent advances made in understanding how cooperation and multicellularity can evolve in microbial populations in the face of such conflicts and discuss parallels with cell populations within multicellular organisms. (Abstract)

Evolution of Multicellularity Cooperation has played a key role in the major transitions in natural history, one of which is the evolution of multicellularity. A multicellular organism is by definition an aggregate of genetically identical cells that remain spatially associated after cell division. In a multicellular organism, generally only a portion of the cells can reproduce, whereas the rest maintain homeostasis of the population or facilitate the success of the reproductive cells. This high degree of cooperativity and differentiation between cells is one of the most striking features of multicellular life. (11)

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