Origins of an Altruism Gene

For the first time, scientists say they have traced the origin of an “altruism gene,” possibly shedding light on the nagging mystery of how generosity and cooperation evolved.

The findings, they add, suggest that at least some altruism genes evolved from genes that originally served to suppress some biological activities in lean times.

The scientists traced an “altruism gene” in Volvox carterii, a primitive multi-cellular creature, to its one-celled ancestor. 

Volvox, thanks to its simplicity, is considered possibly the best living representative of another great evolutionary event now lost in time: the evolution of multi-cellularity. 

The new findings, if correct, could thus clarify how this monumental advance drew on simple forms of cooperation between cells.

The research appears in the May 23 online issue Molecular Biology and Evolution.