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Plenary Lecture 6: Ecology and the evolution of multicellularity

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Mustapha Amrani.

Understanding Microbial Communities; Function, Structure and Dynamics

Co-authors: Alex Washburne (Princeton University), Simon Levin (Princeton University), Allyson Sgro (Princeton University), Martin Nowak (Harvard University), Cliff Taubes (Harvard University)

The evolutionary trajectory of life on earth is one of increasing size and complexity. Yet the standard equations of evolutionary dynamics describe mutation and selection among similar organisms that compete on the same level of organization. I will try to outline a mathematical theory that might help to explore how evolution can be constructive. I will distinguish and compare two fundamental operations—staying together (individuals form larger units by not separating after reproduction) and coming together (individuals form aggregates). Both operations have been identified in the context of multicellularity, but they can be found at every level of biological construction. Although staying together is considered to be the primary mechanism for the evolution of complex multicellularity, I will argue that it is the comparison between coming together and staying together in the right ecological contexts that sheds most light on the evolution of mul ticellularity.

This talk is part of the Isaac Newton Institute Seminar Series series.

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