Development Genes and Evolution

, Volume 229, Issue 1, pp 25–34 | Cite as

Independent evolution of complex development in animals and plants: deep homology and lateral gene transfer

  • Aurora M. NedelcuEmail author
Short Communication


The evolution of multicellularity is a premier example of phenotypic convergence: simple multicellularity evolved independently many times, and complex multicellular phenotypes are found in several distant groups. Furthermore, both animal and plant lineages have independently reached extreme levels of morphological, functional, and developmental complexity. This study explores the genetic basis for the parallel evolution of complex multicellularity and development in the animal and green plant (i.e., green algae and land plants) lineages. Specifically, the study (i) identifies the SAND domain—a DNA-binding domain with important roles in the regulation of cell proliferation and differentiation, as unique to animals, green algae, and land plants; and (ii) suggests that the parallel deployment of this ancestral domain in similar regulatory roles could have contributed to the independent evolution of complex development in these distant groups. Given the deep animal-green plant divergence, the limited distribution of the SAND domain is best explained by invoking a lateral gene transfer (LGT) event from a green alga to an early metazoan. The presence of a sequence motif specifically shared by a family of SAND-containing transcription factors involved in the evolution of complex multicellularity in volvocine algae and two types of SAND proteins that emerged early in the evolution of animals is consistent with this scenario. Overall, these findings imply that (i) in addition to be involved in the evolution of similar phenotypes, deep homologous sequences can also contribute to shaping parallel evolutionary trajectories in distant lineages, and (ii) LGT could provide an additional source of latent homologous sequences that can be deployed in analogous roles and affect the evolutionary potentials of distantly related groups.


SAND domain Deep homology Convergent evolution Multicellularity Development Lateral gene transfer Volvocine algae 



This work was supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and the US National Science Foundation (DEB-1457701). Discussions during the early stages of this project and manuscript preparation with Erik Hanschen, Matthew Herron, Zachariah Grochau-Wright, and Adrian Reyes-Prieto are acknowledged.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of New BrunswickFrederictonCanada

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