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Biophysical principles of choanoflagellate self-organization


Inspired by the patterns of multicellularity in choanoflagellates, the closest living relatives of animals, we quantify the biophysical processes underlying the morphogenesis of rosette colonies in the choanoflagellate Salpingoeca rosetta We find that rosettes reproducibly transition from an early stage of 2-dimensional (2D) growth to a later stage of 3D growth, despite the underlying variability of the cell lineages. Our perturbative experiments demonstrate the fundamental importance of a basally secreted extracellular matrix (ECM) for rosette morphogenesis and show that the interaction of the ECM with cells in the colony physically constrains the packing of proliferating cells and, thus, controls colony shape. Simulations of a biophysically inspired model that accounts for the size and shape of the individual cells, the fraction of ECM, and its stiffness relative to that of the cells suffices to explain our observations and yields a morphospace consistent with observations across a range of multicellular choanoflagellate colonies. Overall, our biophysical perspective on rosette development complements previous genetic perspectives and, thus, helps illuminate the interplay between cell biology and physics in regulating morphogenesis.

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