Date of Award


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University or Center

Clark Atlanta University(CAU)


School of Arts and Sciences

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The transition to multicellularity is a major step in the evolution of complex life. The first steps in this transition are poorly understood because multicellularity evolved long ago, and transitional forms have been lost to extinction. Previous studies developed a novel microbial model system in which simple multicellularity could be evolved de novo (Ratcliff et al., 2012). By evolving our snowflake yeast to undergo sexual reproduction we hypothesized that sex created variation in key multicellular traits, which spurs multicellular adaptation. In our 'snowflake yeast' model system, two traits are of central importance: cluster size, and programmed cell death (apoptosis). Apoptosis previously evolved to regulate cluster size, by acting as break points within clusters, allowing them to modify the size and number of multicellular propagules they produce.

In prior experiments, this only develops after yeast have evolved to form large clusters. Prior experiments in the lab demonstrated that the longer snowflake yeast have been evolving, the greater the fitness benefit provided by sex. Here we examine whether this is due to sex creating greater amounts of diversity in the traits of post-sex offspring in more highly evolved multicellular yeast, allowing post-recombination offspring to 'fine tune' their multicellular traits. By using flow cytometry, we collected data on our multicellular traits. By gathering the biomass mean of the cluster size in each population and staining the cells with propidium iodide to determine the apoptotic tendencies of our cells we were able to compare our outcomes to the pre-sex ancestor, and we determined there was no increase in variation. Although apoptosis did not have an increase in variation due to sex, it created a variation in cluster size; the variation was seen in the population W8. This still supports our hypothesis that sex creates variation in multicellular traits, which allows for rapid adaptation.

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