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Division of labour is not only a defining feature of human societies but is also omnipresent among the building blocks of biological organisms and is considered a major theme of evolution. Theoretical Biologists Claus Rueffler and Joachim Hermisson from Vienna University in collaboration with Gnter P. Wagner from Yale University identified necessary conditions under which division of labour is favoured by natural selection. The results of their study are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Most animals and plants consist of a set of building blocks, also called modules. An obvious case in point are higher organisms that are collections of many cells of different types. The modular structure of biological organization is also visible at many other levels: several plant organs are derived from leafs, insects have segmented bodies and vertebrates have different appendages. Our teeth are yet another example for this modular structure.
Evolution Need not Lead to Specialization
What jumps to the eyes is that modules are commonly not identical but differ in form and function as is clearly visible in for instance the case of incisive and molars. Such modules are specialists, which together with other specialist modules collaborate within an organism. This possibility for division of labour is regarded as one of the main advantages of a modular structure and a major trend in evolution. On the other hand, many examples for organisms exist that consist of identical modules that jointly fulfil more than a single task. For example, some green algae are colonies of a few dozens of undifferentiated cells and each cell contributes to feeding, locomotion and reproduction. Similarly, millipedes and many primitive crustaceans consist of many undifferentiated b
|Contact: Claus Rueffler|
University of Vienna