EAST LANSING, Mich. We have hundreds of types of cells in our bodies everything from red blood cells to hair follicles to neurons. But why can't most of them create offspring for us?
New research at Michigan State University suggests that separating germ cells sperm and eggs from somatic cells all other cells preserves the genetic building blocks while allowing organisms to flourish in a somewhat hazardous environment.
The results, which appear in the current issue of PLOS Biology, show that having somatic cells do the organism's dirty work helps explain this beneficial evolution.
"The idea we're exploring is that multicellular organisms set aside germ cells to protect their genetic material, letting other cells the soma do the dirty work that damages DNA, their genetic building blocks," said Heather Goldsby, who conducted the research at MSU's BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action.
While this study was focused on cells in multicellular organisms, some of the same themes apply to other natural systems. Beehives provide one potential example. The queen would be the germ cell, carrying out the sole task of maintaining the hive's population; and the worker bees would be the somatic cells, fulfilling all of the other necessary duties needed to ensure the hive's health.
Rather than use bees or living organisms for their experiments, the researchers used Avida, a software environment developed at MSU in which self-replicating computer programs compete and evolve.
"The digital organisms in Avida evolve complex traits and behaviors in a natural and open-ended fashion," said Charles Ofria, director of the MSU Digital Evolution laboratory. "Avida is a powerful platform for exploring big evolutionary questions, much faster and more transparently than could ever be done with natural organisms."
This splitting of cellular duties is a hallmark of major transitions in evolution. The t
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Michigan State University