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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014 Dec 2;111(48):16990-4. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1415861111. Epub 2014 Nov 17.

Evolutionary cell biology: two origins, one objective.

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Department of Biology, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405;
Division of Biological Chemistry and Drug Discovery, University of Dundee, Dundee DD1 5EH, United Kingdom;
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN 46556;
Division of Basic Sciences and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, WA 98195;
Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência, P-2781-901 Oeiras, Portugal;
Department of Biology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19143;
Department of Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637; and.
Verna and Marrs McLean Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX 77030


All aspects of biological diversification ultimately trace to evolutionary modifications at the cellular level. This central role of cells frames the basic questions as to how cells work and how cells come to be the way they are. Although these two lines of inquiry lie respectively within the traditional provenance of cell biology and evolutionary biology, a comprehensive synthesis of evolutionary and cell-biological thinking is lacking. We define evolutionary cell biology as the fusion of these two eponymous fields with the theoretical and quantitative branches of biochemistry, biophysics, and population genetics. The key goals are to develop a mechanistic understanding of general evolutionary processes, while specifically infusing cell biology with an evolutionary perspective. The full development of this interdisciplinary field has the potential to solve numerous problems in diverse areas of biology, including the degree to which selection, effectively neutral processes, historical contingencies, and/or constraints at the chemical and biophysical levels dictate patterns of variation for intracellular features. These problems can now be examined at both the within- and among-species levels, with single-cell methodologies even allowing quantification of variation within genotypes. Some results from this emerging field have already had a substantial impact on cell biology, and future findings will significantly influence applications in agriculture, medicine, environmental science, and synthetic biology.


adaptive evolution; cell biology; cellular evolution; evolutionary cell biology; random genetic drift

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