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Did recent yeast experiment really shed much light on multicellularity?

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Recently, a research group generated a great deal of interest in their claim that we are much closer to understanding multicellularity because of a recent experiment with yeast.

At Wired’s story, the first commenter wanted to know. “Now can we sterilize the creationists?” (55 likes) See also, for example, Nature, National Science Foundation, and The Scientist, where Jef Akst reports (January 16, 2012),

Using an artificial selection paradigm, researchers watch as unicellular yeast evolve into snowflake-like clusters with distinct multicellular characteristics.

In as little as 100 generations, yeast selected to settle more quickly through a test tube evolved into multicellular, snowflake-like clusters, according to a paper published today (January 16) in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Over the course of the experiment, the clusters evolved to be larger, produce multicellular progeny, and even show differentiation of the cells within the cluster—all key characteristics of multicellular organisms.


But this is just one experiment under admittedly contrived conditions. “What remains to be seen for me is how relevant is it to actual transitions to multicellularity,” said Srivastava.

Indeed, the authors of the PNAS study admit that selecting for yeast cells or clusters that settled most quickly isn’t exactly a “natural” selection pressure. But there could be some important lessons here, Ratcliff insisted. “If we really understand the way that multicellularity can evolve, then that gives us a lot of insight to how this could have occurred in the past,” he said.

Mike Behe offers a different perspective on the yeast in “More Darwinian Degradation: Much Ado about Yeast” (Evolution News & Views, January 23, 2012):

The authors repeated three steps multiple times: 1) they grew single-celled yeast in a flask; 2) briefly centrifuged it; and 3) took a small amount from the bottom of the flask to seed a new culture. This selected for cells that sedimented faster than most. After a number of rounds of selection the cells sedimented much faster than the beginning cells. Examination showed that the fast-sedimenting cells formed clusters due to incomplete separation of replicating mother-daughter cells.

The cell clusters also were 10% less fit (that’s quite an amount) than the beginning cells in the absence of the sedimentation selection. After further selection it was seen that some cells in clusters would “commit suicide” (apoptosis), which apparently made the clusters more brittle and allowed chunks to break off and form new clusters. (The beginning cells already had the ability to undergo apoptosis.)

So, in his view, it is a general loss of fitness that caused the cells to cling together or break apart.

Incidentally, yeast cells are known to act as colonies at times.

A difficulty that occurs to some laypeople is this: The fact that generally unicellular life forms may sometimes benefit from acting as a colony or a combine of some kind does not get to the heart of multicellularity.

What most of us mean by multicellularity is more like the cat on the sofa than the yeast colony or the amoebic slime mold.

Every cell of the cat – neuron, heart cell, kidney cell – is not only specific to a cat but specific to that particular cat. Apart from human veterinary heroics, most of those cells might not even survive in another cat, let alone if they were ejected from the cat onto the floor. Now that’s multicellularity. The feline cells live and die in, by, and for one specific cat.

And how many cats are there in the world?

That’s the level of organized complexity for whose origin we need to account  if we want to understand the origin of multicellularity. Not the  – usually dispersable – associations of unicellular fungi and amoebas.

7 Replies to “Did recent yeast experiment really shed much light on multicellularity?

  1. 1
    Maus says:

    At least it isn’t a rehash of the argument that pressing milk curds together represents a proof that cheddar wheels will write sonnets.

  2. 2
    bornagain77 says:

    And one neo-Darwinist had the audacity to accuse me of having ‘faith’ for pointing out that this will turn out to conform to the principle of genetic entropy just as all the other examples by Lenski, and others, do (Behe; First Rule of Adaptive Evolution). Perhaps I do have a bit of ‘faith’, but if so, it takes far more ‘faith’ to believe something with no historical precedence, as he does for evolution, than it does to believe that the laws of science will continue to hold throughout nature, including the biological realm!. i.e. ‘genetic entropy’

  3. 3
    champignon says:


    A difficulty that occurs to some laypeople is this: The fact that generally unicellular life forms may sometimes benefit from acting as a colony or a combine of some kind does not get to the heart of multicellularity.

    What most of us mean by multicellularity is more like the cat on the sofa than the yeast colony or the amoebic slime mold.

    From the article:

    Each strain had evolved to be truly multicellular, displaying all the tendencies associated with “higher” forms of life: a division of labor between specialized cells, juvenile and adult life stages, and multicellular offspring.

    And in only two weeks!

  4. 4
    Maus says:

    So I bothered to read the article. I take you’re not aware of what Brewer’s Yeast and yeast flocculation are about? All they’ve done is turn beer yeast into champagne yeast. And thank Darwin, since we can start producing champagne now!

    So much for my earlier statement on cheese curds.

  5. 5
    Starbuck says:

    An author responds to a youtube creationist:

  6. 6
    bornagain77 says:

    Interesting, the authors of the yeast paper apparently believe that God, in the biggest miracle mankind has ever witnessed, raised Jesus from the dead (since they quote Jesus to defend their position!), yet they believe that processes that degrade preexisting cellular abilities are proof that God cannot create life in the first place?!? And of all the gall of Darwinists to exhibit, the authors had the audacity to quote scripture on hypocrisy in response to the ‘creationist’! 🙂 Now you just can’t make this stuff up! 🙂


    They alluded to ‘thousands of papers’ that support neo-Darwinian evolution, yet, under the hood, we find:

    Michael Behe – Life Reeks Of Design – 2010 – video

    And in spite of the fact of finding molecular motors permeating the simplest of bacterial life, there are ZERO detailed Darwinian accounts for the evolution of even one such motor or system.

    “There are no detailed Darwinian accounts for the evolution of any fundamental biochemical or cellular system only a variety of wishful speculations. It is remarkable that Darwinism is accepted as a satisfactory explanation of such a vast subject.”
    James Shapiro – Molecular Biologist

    The following expert doesn’t even hide his very unscientific preconceived philosophical bias against intelligent design,,,

    ‘We should reject, as a matter of principle, the substitution of intelligent design for the dialogue of chance and necessity,,,

    Yet at the same time the same expert readily admits that neo-Darwinism has ZERO evidence for the chance and necessity of material processes producing any cellular system whatsoever,,,

    ,,,we must concede that there are presently no detailed Darwinian accounts of the evolution of any biochemical or cellular system, only a variety of wishful speculations.’
    Franklin M. Harold,* 2001. The way of the cell: molecules, organisms and the order of life, Oxford University Press, New York, p. 205.
    *Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry, Colorado State University, USA

    Michael Behe – No Scientific Literature For Evolution of Any Irreducibly Complex Molecular Machines

    “The response I have received from repeating Behe’s claim about the evolutionary literature, which simply brings out the point being made implicitly by many others, such as Chris Dutton and so on, is that I obviously have not read the right books. There are, I am sure, evolutionists who have described how the transitions in question could have occurred.” And he continues, “When I ask in which books I can find these discussions, however, I either get no answer or else some titles that, upon examination, do not, in fact, contain the promised accounts. That such accounts exist seems to be something that is widely known, but I have yet to encounter anyone who knows where they exist.”
    David Ray Griffin – retired professor of philosophy of religion and theology

    And since the authors brought up a quote from Jesus to defend their hypocrisy of science mixed with hypocrisy of metaphysics, let’s briefly, and ‘scientifically’, examine Christ’s actual position within reality;

    (,,,The ‘mathematical endeavor’, to unify General Relativity with Quantum Mechanics, has been fraught with extreme difficulty. Here is, I believe, the main ‘mathematical difficulty’,,,)

    Science vs God: Its The Collapse Of Physics As We Know it – video

    Excerpt: The biggest challenge to today’s physicists is how to reconcile general relativity and quantum mechanics. However, these two pillars of modern science were bound to be incompatible. “The universe of general relativity is a smooth rubber sheet. It is continuous and flowing, never sharp, never pointy. Quantum mechanics, on the other hand, describes a jerky and discontinuous universe. What the two theories have in common – and what they clash over – is zero.”,, “The infinite zero of a black hole — mass crammed into zero space, curving space infinitely — punches a hole in the smooth rubber sheet. The equations of general relativity cannot deal with the sharpness of zero. In a black hole, space and time are meaningless.”,, “Quantum mechanics has a similar problem, a problem related to the zero-point energy. The laws of quantum mechanics treat particles such as the electron as points; that is, they take up no space at all. The electron is a zero-dimensional object,,, According to the rules of quantum mechanics, the zero-dimensional electron has infinite mass and infinite charge.

    (,,,Moreover, this extreme ‘mathematical difficulty’, of reconciling General Relativity with Quantum Mechanics into the much sought after ‘Theory of Everything’, was actually somewhat foreseeable from previous work, earlier in the 20th century, in mathematics by Godel:,,,)

    Excerpt: we cannot construct an ontology that makes God dispensable. Secularists can dismiss this as a mere exercise within predefined rules of the game of mathematical logic, but that is sour grapes, for it was the secular side that hoped to substitute logic for God in the first place. Gödel’s critique of the continuum hypothesis has the same implication as his incompleteness theorems: Mathematics never will create the sort of closed system that sorts reality into neat boxes.

    (,,,Moreover when we allow consciousness its proper role in quantum mechanics:,,,)

    The argument for God from consciousness can be framed like this:

    1. Consciousness either precedes all of material reality or is a ‘epi-phenomena’ of material reality.
    2. If consciousness is a ‘epi-phenomena’ of material reality then consciousness will be found to have no special position within material reality. Whereas conversely, if consciousness precedes material reality then consciousness will be found to have a special position within material reality.
    3. Consciousness is found to have a special, even central, position within material reality.
    4. Therefore, consciousness is found to precede material reality.

    “It was not possible to formulate the laws (of quantum theory) in a fully consistent way without reference to consciousness.”
    Eugene Wigner (1902 -1995) from his collection of essays “Symmetries and Reflections – Scientific Essays”; Eugene Wigner laid the foundation for the theory of symmetries in quantum mechanics, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963.

    (,,,We then find a very credible reconciliation between General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics which, very unlike the multiverse conjecture, actually has some very impressive empirical evidence backing it up,,,)

    General Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Entropy, and The Shroud Of Turin – updated video (notes in description)

    (,,,Thus, when one allows God into math, as Godel clearly indicated must ultimately be done to keep math from being ‘incomplete’, then we find that there actually exists a very credible reconciliation between Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity into a the much sought after ‘Theory of Everything’! Yet it certainly is a ‘Theory of Everything’ that many dogmatic Atheists will try to deny the relevance of.,,, As a footnote; Godel, who proved you cannot have a mathematical ‘Theory of Everything’, without allowing God to bring completeness to the ‘Theory of Everything’ in the first place, also had this to say,,,)

    The God of the Mathematicians – Goldman
    Excerpt: As Gödel told Hao Wang, “Einstein’s religion [was] more abstract, like Spinoza and Indian philosophy. Spinoza’s god is less than a person; mine is more than a person; because God can play the role of a person.” – Kurt Gödel – (Gödel is considered by many to be the greatest mathematician of the 20th century)

  7. 7
    APM says:

    When I saw that story, my first thought was, “Another controlled experiment trying to prove the power of chaos.” Which might not necessarily invalidate it…But then I also thought, “And what does this have to do with fish evolving into land animals, and land animals into George Carlin?” For decades, Darwinists have trumpeted genetic mutation as the key to evolution, yet it is clear that in this experiment, something different was taking place.

    First, they relied on selective breeding rather than mutation, which is to say that they gathered a pack of wild dogs and thinned out the gene pool until nothing was left but an ugly chihuahua.

    Second, as a result of this selective breeding, the final product was unable to reproduce without complications. I don’t know enough about biology to know whether the faulty separation process causes actual mutations to the underlying genetic code, and it seems that the scientists didn’t go into detail on that issue. But let’s say that there is a change. Even so, we’ve got a problem.

    Again, let’s go back to the standard explanation of how genetic mutations are the cause of complex life. The idea is that every so often, copying errors occur in the genetic code. Most of those errors are bad, but some are beneficial, and the beneficial ones survive to the next generation because they give the animal an advantage.

    How is that different from the yeast? Because the selection was not for a beneficial trait in the messed-up, partially unseparated yeast offspring. Rather, what was selected was the fast-sedimenting yeast parent cells. The grotesque Borg-like offspring were just a side effect.

    If we applied that concept to the broader evolutionary process, it would mean that complex creatures have come to be, not because their complexity is beneficial, but because their parents had the distinction of A)Outliving their peers and B)Suffering from reproductive problems.

    Am I saying that complicated explanations are necessarily false? No. But the burden of proof remains on the shoulders of the Darwinists to show us why we should believe their wild theories.

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