Genomic Analysis of Organismal Complexity in the Multicellular Green Alga Volvox carteri

Science  09 Jul 2010:
Vol. 329, Issue 5988, pp. 223-226
DOI: 10.1126/science.1188800

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Going Multicellular

The volvocine algae include both the unicellular Chlamydomonas and the multicellular Volvox, which diverged from one another 50 to 200 million years ago. Prochnik et al. (p. 223) compared the Volvox genome with that of Chlamydomonas to identify any genomic innovations that might have been associated with the transition to multicellularity. Size changes were observed in several protein families in Volvox, but, overall, the Volvox genome and predicted proteome were highly similar to those of Chlamydomonas. Thus, biological complexity can arise without major changes in genome content or protein domains.


The multicellular green alga Volvox carteri and its morphologically diverse close relatives (the volvocine algae) are well suited for the investigation of the evolution of multicellularity and development. We sequenced the 138–mega–base pair genome of V. carteri and compared its ~14,500 predicted proteins to those of its unicellular relative Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. Despite fundamental differences in organismal complexity and life history, the two species have similar protein-coding potentials and few species-specific protein-coding gene predictions. Volvox is enriched in volvocine-algal–specific proteins, including those associated with an expanded and highly compartmentalized extracellular matrix. Our analysis shows that increases in organismal complexity can be associated with modifications of lineage-specific proteins rather than large-scale invention of protein-coding capacity.

  • * These authors contributed equally to this work.

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