What Do We Mean by Multicellularity? The Evolutionary Transitions Framework Provides Answers

At first glance, the meaning of the word “multicellularity” appears to be unambiguous—it is treated
as an “intuitive” concept, something that can be grasped with common sense. On closer inspection,
however, it is apparent that there is notable disparity in the recent literature regarding the usage of
the term “multicellularity.” Whereas, traditionally it was mainly attributed to complex organisms
(Grosberg and Strathmann, 2007), more recently it has also been used for simple microbial colonies
or biofilms (Hengge, 2020). Accordingly, a unifying definition is lacking—whereas some definitions
require cells to display an overall coordination of function (Wolpert and Szathmáry, 2002), have
physical contact and strong interactions (Kaiser, 2001), others are simply based on the presence of
a group-morphology (Schirrmeister et al., 2013).


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