Okay folks, I’m starting to feel that I am indeed on the right track here. Back in the early 2000s, I introduced the term “front-loaded evolution” to cyberspace, as I began to publicly mull over the possibility that evolution was influenced and/or shaped by design. I began to explore ways a designer would recruit evolution to carry out design objectives, which eventually led to me outlining the logic of front-loading in my book, The Design Matrix.
Yet I also put a specific hypothesis on the table back in 2002 (on the Brainstorm and ARN forums)– that protozoan life forms would be endowed with information to increase the likelihood that metazoan life would evolve. I even predicted that we would find metazoan-specific information in protozoan life forms. Here are some examples I have been able to track down:
Yes! Put yourself in a designer’s shoes intent on seeding the planet with microorganisms tweaked to evolve into metazoans. Surely, you face a design problem. The problem is this: there are likely to be metazoan-specific functions that you’ll need to implement. Thus, how do you get those metazoan-specific functions to metazoans-to-be when you are stuck with protozoans? One thing you can do is bury your metazoan-specific function in a protein that serves protozoa. The protozoan function doesn’t have to be essential to protozoa. In fact, it is not unreasonable to suppose that some metazoan functions are not going to be essential for protozoa. But it better serve the protozoa in some way or it will disappear from the face of the earth long before your metazoans-to-be begin to take shape. Thus, we have the basis for my prediction. – 1/16/2002
Yes, an imperfect replicator will necessarily evolve. But this does not mean unicellular organisms will necessarily evolve into a multicellular organism. In fact, a planet-full of unicellular organisms could very well undergo billions and billions of years of darwinian evolution without ever evolving a multicellular organism. My perspective explores the possibility that unicellular organisms were designed in such a way that the evolution of multicellular organisms was made more likely.
It seems to me that an effective front-loading strategy would have to employ things like preadaptation, cooption, and buried design. The alternative is to directly design all the genes needed far in the future and deposit them in the present. The two main design problems come with storing all this information and maintaining it until it is used. Preadaptation, cooption, and buried design are solutions to these design problems.
I already explained that the outcome of FLE is the thing in question. But logically, the best place to start, after positing that the original life forms were unicellular organisms seeded on this planet, would be to investigate whether such cells were front-loaded to evolve into multicellular organisms. So I’ll put that hypothesis on the table. – 5/7/2002
For example, my working hypothesis (just recently being seriously entertained) is that the original cells were front-loaded to make it more likely that multicellular states would evolve. These leads me to predict that we will find remnants or “fossils” of such front-loaded distributed among protozoa. Specifically, we will find various pieces of information, necessary for multicellular life, not necessary for single-celled existence, yet still present in many single-celled organisms. – 5/20/2002
Now that it is 2009, what have we discovered since these predictions?
- In any case, it is clear that the placozoan/eumetazoan ancestor already possessed a complex repertoire of signaling pathways which were most likely essential for the transition from Protozoa to Metazoa.
- Our findings are consistent with the idea that the common ancestor of eukaryotes was complex in molecular terms, and already possessed many of the regulatory molecules, which later favored the multiple convergent acquisition of multicellularity….. In other terms, we suggest that the eukaryotes as a whole are preadapted for multicellularity, which only means that the ancestral complexity of the eukaryote genome and cell biology facilitated multiple acquisitions of multicellularity.
- What makes choanoflagellates unique, however, is that they have all three of these molecules. What’s more, they have relatively large quantities of them in amounts commonly seen in larger metazoan organisms.The researchers conclude that the presence of the full three-component signaling system may have played a role in the development of metazoan organisms whose cells could communicate with each other in complex ways.
- It thus appears that most of the components needed to form adherens junctions, the cadherins, actins, beta-catenins, vinculins, and alpha-actinins, all existed prior to the appearance of animals, epithelial tissue, and adherens junctions. It is possible that all these genes were present in the ancestral protozoan organism that then spawned both choanoflagellates and metazoans.
- DeSalle agrees. “It is the underlying genetic tool kit that is similar amongst these basal animals. Placozoa have all of the tools in their genome to make a nervous system, but they just don’t do it.”
- The hypothesis of front-loading neurons would lead us to expect that these neurotransmitters exist in organisms that do not possess neurons. And sure enough, they do.
- molecular preadaptations for nerve cell formation can be traced back to an ancestor that existed prior to the evolution of true neurons.
- We conclude that an extensive Ca2+ signaling ‘toolkit’ exists in the unicellular choanoflagellates, preceding the origins of animals (Metazoa). The current hypothesis of Ca2+ signaling acquires new dimensions in light of this novel discovery. Why does such an apparently simple unicellular organism need a complex Ca2+ signaling machinery?
- Because red and green algae likely diverged more than a billion years ago, the discovery of lignin in red algae suggests that the basic machinery for producing lignin may have existed long before algae moved to land.
- Therefore, words like “pre-existing”, “latent” and “potential” seem apt in describing the hedghog signaling pathway and the unfolding of multicellular body plans in relation to the increase in atmospheric oxygen pressure. “Innovation” perhaps not so much, seeing that only real innovation was bought on about by life itself namely the increase in atmospheric oxygen. This increase in atmospheric oxygen in turn seemed to have unlocked the pathways to multicellular body plans (>3 cell types).
And there is more to come!