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Cell. 2005 Dec 29;123(7):1351-60.

Stem cells are units of natural selection in a colonial ascidian.

Author information

  • 1Department of Biological Sciences, Departments of Pathology and Developmental Biology, Stanford University Medical Center, Stanford, CA 94305, USA. diana@stanfordalumni.org

Erratum in

  • Cell. 2006 Feb 10;124(3):647-8.


Stem cells are highly conserved biological units of development and regeneration. Here we formally demonstrate that stem cell lineages are also legitimate units of natural selection. In a colonial ascidian, Botryllus schlosseri, vascular fusion between genetically distinct individuals results in cellular parasitism of somatic tissues, gametes, or both. We show that genetic hierarchies of somatic and gametic parasitism following fusion can be replicated by transplanting cells between colonies. We prospectively isolate a population of multipotent, self-renewing stem cells that retain their competitive phenotype upon transplantation. Their single-cell contribution to either somatic or germline fates, but not to both, is consistent with separate lineages of somatic and germline stem cells or pluripotent stem cells that differentiate according to the niche in which they land. Since fusion is restricted to individuals that share a fusion/histocompatibility allele, these data suggest that histocompatibility genes in Botryllus evolved to protect the body from parasitic stem cells usurping asexual or sexual inheritance.

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