The emergence of multicellular organisms from single-celled ancestors is one of the most profound evolutionary steps in life’s history. However, and despite its importance, little is known about this pivotal evolutionary event. Interestingly, the emergence of multicellular organisms has occurred several times independently within the eukaryotes, such as in animals, fungi and plants. In this context, the super-group known as the Opisthokonts offers a unique evolutionary window to investigate the unicell-to-multicell transition because it comprises two multicellular eukaryotic kingdoms (Animals and Fungi) and several single-celled lineages. The goal of this project is to perform a comparative genomic analysis to further investigate into the origin of multicellularity within metazoans. Although genomic and functional studies are currently being performed in basal and derived metazoans, among the animal unicellular ancestors, choanoflagellates remain the only lineage to be extensively studied. This project aims to fill this gap by providing a genomic and molecular investigation into two additional unicellular lineages recently shown to be closely related to animals: Capsaspora owczarzaki and the ichthyosporean Sphaeroforma arctica. Thus, the specific goals of this project are: 1) to analyze the complete genome sequence of the unicellular opisthokonts Capsaspora and Sphaeroforma; and 2) to launch a new functional genomics platform of both Capsaspora and Sphaeroforma, in where to elucidate the “ancestral function” of genes relevant to multicellularity. A broad range of researchers (including the “evo-devo” community, eukaryotic microbiologists and molecular evolutionists) will benefit from the data generated within this project. Surely, this research will not only largely improve our understanding of a major biological question (the origin/s of multicellularity) but will also provide an evolutionary insight into the evolution of key proteins relevant to human health.
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