The Evolution of Multicellularity  book cover
1st Edition

The Evolution of Multicellularity

ISBN 9780367356965
Published June 8, 2022 by CRC Press
400 Pages 44 Color & 11 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

Among the most important innovations in the history of life is the transition from single-celled organisms to more complex, multicellular organisms. Multicellularity has evolved repeatedly across the tree of life, resulting in the evolution of new kinds of organisms that collectively constitute a significant portion of Earth’s biodiversity and have transformed the biosphere. This volume examines the origins and subsequent evolution of multicellularity, reviewing the types of multicellular groups that exist, their evolutionary relationships, the processes that led to their evolution, and the conceptual frameworks in which their evolution is understood. This important volume is intended to serve as a jumping-off point, stimulating further research by summarizing the topics that students and researchers of the evolution of multicellularity should be familiar with, and highlighting future research directions for the field.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Andrew H. Knoll


List of Contributors

1. Introduction: The Evolution of Multicellularity in Context

Matthew D. Herron, Peter L. Conlin, and William C. Ratcliff


2. Getting at the Basics of Multicellularity

Maureen A. O’Malley

3. Multi-Level Selection of the Individual Organism

Richard E. Michod

4. Life Cycles as a Central Organizing Theme for Studying Multicellularity

Merlijn Staps, Jordi van Gestel, and Corina E. Tarnita


5. Eukaryote Aggregative Multicellularity: Phylogenetic Distribution and a Case Study of Its Proximate and Ultimate Cause in Dictyostelia

Pauline Schaap

6. Group Formation: On the Evolution of Aggregative Multicellularity

Marco La Fortezza, Kaitlin A. Schaal, and Gregory J. Velicer

7. Group Maintenance in Aggregative Multicellularity

Israt Jahan, Tyler Larsen, Joan E. Strassmann, and David C. Queller

8. Group Transformation: Fruiting Body and Stalk Formation

Cathleen Broersma and Elizabeth A. Ostrowski


9. Phylogenetics of Clonal Multicellularity

Michelle M. Leger and I–aki Ruiz-Trillo

10. Group Formation: Hypotheses for the Evolution of Clonal Multicellularity

Stefania E. Kapsetaki and Roberta M. Fisher

11. Group Maintenance in Clonal Multicellularity: Controlling Intra-organismal Evolution

Aurora M. Nedelcu and Alexander N. May

12. Group Transformation: Life History Trade-offs, Division of Labor, and Evolutionary Transitions in Individuality

Guilhem Doulcier, Katrin Hammerschmidt, and Pierrick Bourrat


13. The Single-Celled Ancestors of Animals: A History of Hypotheses

Thibaut Brunet and Nicole King

14. Convergent Evolution of Complex Multicellularity in Fungi

László G. Nagy

15. Genetic and Developmental Mechanisms of Cellular Differentiation in Algae

Susana M. Coelho and J. Mark Cock

16. The Evolution of Complex Multicellularity in Streptophytes

Liam N. Briginshaw and John L. Bowman

17. Multi-Species Multicellular Life Cycles

Rebecka Andersson, Hanna Isaksson, and Eric Libby


18. Conclusion: The Future of Multicellularity Research

William C. Ratcliff, Peter L. Conlin, and Matthew D. Herron


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Matthew D. Herron is a Senior Research Scientist in the School of Biology at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He received his PhD from the University of Arizona and held postdoctoral positions at the University of British Columbia, the NASA Astrobiology Institute, and the University of Montana. He has authored or co-authored dozens of peer reviewed scientific papers.

William C. Ratcliff is an Associate Professor in School of Biological Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where he co-directs the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Quantitative Biosciences. He received his PhD from the University of Minnesota. At Tech, he leads a research group that examines the evolution of multicellularity through directed evolution, synthetic biology, and mathematical modeling.

Peter L. Conlin is a Postdoctoral Researcher in the School of Biological Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He received his PhD from the University of Washington. He has authored or co-authored several peer reviewed scientific papers.


The emergence of multicellular organisms is one of the most striking transitions in evolution. This nicely illustrated volume covers this topic from many angles, with 18 chapters by outstanding researchers in this fascinating and productive field. – Richard Lenski, Michigan State University

No major transition was more major than that from single-celled to multicellular life.  The editors of and contributors to The Evolution of Multicellularity do a wonderful job walking the reader through that transition. I heartily recommend this book to (multicellular) readers everywhere. – Lee Dugatkin, University of Louisville