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Understanding the role of plasticity in the transition to a multicellular organism

We are interested in understanding one of the major transitions in life, which is the origin of animal multicellularity. We hypothesize that before organisms became obligated multicellular there was a time where transitions were tested and different scenarios co-existed. Since we can no go back to those times, the only way to address that transition is to explore from different perspectives biology the unicellular organisms derived from those ancestors, from phylogenomics, to genome regulation and cell biology.  Our data suggest that plasticity was crucial in the life of animal ancestors and is a key quality to explore alternatives.
Therefore, we are concentrating our efforts in understanding the role of plasticity in two different outcomes, the capacity to produce different cell types and to be able to follow different developmental pathways. To study these features we work  in three different lineages of  unicellular relatives of animals: the filastereans, the ichthyosporeans and the corallochytreans. On this talk, I will concentrate in describing the morphological diversity of the ichthyosporean Abeoforma whisleri. This taxon produces a remarkable variety of morphologically cell types, including some never before described in unicellular relatives of animas. For instance, we have recently identified in this organism a novel cell type, the Medusa-cell that behaves like a terminally differentiated cell, something that was thought to be specific to multicellular organisms. I will also explain the strategies that we are carrying on in order to understand how some of the unicellular relatives of animals combine different developmental pathways, which are the molecular players, and the internal and external triggers that govern this decision making.