Łukasz Lamża

Diversity of ‘simple’ multicellular eukaryotes: 45 independent cases and six types of multicellularity

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology

ABSTRACTMulticellularity evolved multiple times in the history of life, with most reviewers agreeing that it appeared at least 20 times in eukaryotes. However, a specific list of multicellular eukaryotes with clear criteria for inclusion has not yet been published. Herein, an updated critical review of eukaryotic multicellularity is presented, based on current understanding of eukaryotic phylogeny and new discoveries in microbiology, phycology and mycology. As a result, 45 independent multicellular lineages are identified that fall into six distinct types. Functional criteria, as distinct from a purely topological definition of a cell, are introduced to bring uniformity and clarity to the existing definitions of terms such as colony, multicellularity, thallus or plasmodium. The category of clonal multicellularity is expanded to include: (i) septated multinucleated thalli found in Pseudofungi and early‐branching Fungi such as Chytridiomycota and Blastocladiomycota; and (ii) multicellular reproductive structures formed by plasmotomy in intracellular parasites such as Phytomyxea. Furthermore, (iii) endogeneous budding, as found in Paramyxida, is described as a form of multicellularity. The best‐known case of clonal multicellularity, i.e. (iv) non‐separation of cells after cell division, as known from Metazoa and Ochrophyta, is also discussed. The category of aggregative multicellularity is expanded to include not only (v) pseudoplasmodial forms, such a sorocarp‐forming Acrasida, but also (vi) meroplasmodial organisms, such as members of Variosea or Filoreta. A common set of topological, geometric, genetic and life‐cycle criteria are presented that form a coherent, philosophically sound framework for discussing multicellularity. A possibility of a seventh type of multicellularity is discussed, that of multi‐species superorganisms formed by protists with obligatory bacterial symbionts, such as some members of Oxymonada or Parabasalia. Its inclusion is dependent on the philosophical stance taken towards the concepts of individuality and organism in biology. Taxa that merit special attention are identified, such as colonial Centrohelea, and a new speculative form of multicellularity, possibly present in some reticulopodial amoebae, is briefly described. Because of insufficient phylogenetic and morphological data, not all lineages could be unequivocally identified, and the true total number of all multicellular eukaryotic lineages is therefore higher, likely close to a hundred.

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