Scientists' cell discovery unearths evolutionary clues

The full family tree of the species known as social amoebas has been plotted for the first time a breakthrough which will provide important clues to the evolution of life on earth.

Researchers, headed by evolutionary biologist Professor Sandie Baldauf, of the University of York, and biochemist Professor Pauline Schaap, of the University of Dundee, have produced the first molecular 'dictionary' of the 100 or so known species of social amoeba.

Using this family tree, they have devised a model system to establish how single cell organisms communicate and interact to create multi-cellular structures in response to changing environmental conditions. Previously, there was almost no molecular data for social amoeba Dictyostelia which are a hugely diverse and ancient group.

Social amoebas are a group of organisms with a genetic diversity that is greater than that of fungi and similar to that of all animals. They offer an excellent experimental system for studying aspects of evolution and communication that are not easy to study in more complex multi-cellular organisms.

The York and Dundee teams have worked with field biologists in Germany, the US and Japan, and their research is published today (Friday 27th October 2006) in the prestigious international journal Science.

The published paper shows for the first time the family tree of all known social amoeba species and the evolution of their multicellular life style.

"This provides a starting point in allowing us to examine what happens at the molecular level as species evolve and mutate," said Professor Schaap, of the Division of Cell and Developmental Biology in the College of Life Sciences at Dundee.

"The availability of a family tree allows us to reconstruct the evolution of the signalling mechanisms that generate multicellularity. It also provides a powerful tool to identify core ancestral processes that regulate the most basic aspects of de

Contact: David Garner
University of York

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