Toward major evolutionary transitions theory 2.0

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125 Citations (Scopus)


The impressive body of work on the major evolutionary transitions in the last 20 y calls for a reconstruction of the theory although a 2D account (evolution of informational systems and transitions in individuality) remains. Significant advances include the concept of fraternal and egalitarian transitions (lower-level units like and unlike, respectively). Multilevel selection, first without, then with, the collectives in focus is an important explanatory mechanism. Transitions are decomposed into phases of origin, maintenance, and transformation (i.e., further evolution) of the higher level units, which helps reduce the number of transitions in the revised list by two so that it is less top-heavy. After the transition, units show strong cooperation and very limited realized conflict. The origins of cells, the emergence of the genetic code and translation, the evolution of the eukaryotic cell, multicellularity, and the origin of human groups with language are reconsidered in some detail in the light of new data and considerations. Arguments are given why sex is not in the revised list as a separate transition. Some of the transitions can be recursive (e.g., plastids, multicellularity) or limited (transitions that share the usual features of major transitions without a massive phylogenetic impact, such as the micro-and macronuclei in ciliates). During transitions, new units of reproduction emerge, and establishment of such units requires high fidelity of reproduction (as opposed to mere replication).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10104-10111
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number33
Publication statusPublished - Aug 18 2015


  • Aggregative unit formation
  • Egalitarian transitions
  • Fraternal transitions
  • Multilevel selection
  • Recursive transitions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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