Professor Baldauf, of the Department of Biology at York, said: "We have investigated the evolution of plants and animals for a very long time but our whole eco-system depends on single cell organisms. If we want to look at the fundamentals of life we have to look at single cell organisms.
"Amoebas are some of the closest single cell relatives of animals so understanding how they work and evolve is important because it helps us to understand how animals evolve. We have developed a new model system for the study of the evolution of forms.
"We have written the dictionary. Now we know what the words are -- but we still have to construct the sentences."
The research teams were able to build the family tree by amplifying and comparing highly conserved genes from all known species of social amoeba.
The existing family tree of the social amoeba was based on how the multicellular structures of each species look on the outside. However, this tree was completely uprooted by the molecular data gathered by the researchers in Dundee and York.
By plotting all existing information of the amoebas' cellular and multi-cellular shapes and behaviour to the molecular tree, it appeared that increased cell specialization and organism size is a major trend in the evolution of social amoeba.
Professor Schaap and her team are now working to establish how the regulation and function of genes with important roles in development was altered and elaborated during the course of evolution to generate novel cell-types and morphological features.
The next step for Professor Baldauf and her team will be to investigate the origin of these amoebas, and also to search for new species and to establish their position on the family tree. Meanwhile, a number of research projects, including teams in the USA and Germany, have won sponsorship to sequence the genomes of social amoeba species identified by the work in York an
Source:University of York