Natural chimerism in colonial urochordates

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Natural chimeras are commonly distributed in the wild, challenging the traditional paradigm for the advantages of genetically homogenous entities, where uniclonality prevents within-organism conflicts. This essay focuses on the last two-decade studies on chimerism in the cosmopolitan urochordate Botryllus schlosseri, enlightening and focusing the idea of multichimeras as a primary tool for fending off the pervasiveness of super parasitic germ lines. Interacting Botryllus colonies may fuse or reject each other based on allelic compatibility on a single highly polymorphic gene locus. After fusion and establishment of a chimera, a second tier of allorecognition is developed, expressed as genetically controlled morphological resorption of one of the chimeric partners. This is followed by the third tier of allorecognition where somatic and germ cell lineages parasitism are developed. Studies revealed a complex network of costs and few suggested benefits for the state of chimerism in botryllid ascidians. Two life history traits (diversification of allorecognition allele repertoire, colonial programmed lifespan) were considered as selected to combat the major cost of chimeric associated germ cell parasitism. Three other ecological traits (heterosis, settlement of kin larvae in aggregates, multichimerism) have been suggested as selected to enhance the existence of chimerism in botryllid ascidians. Recent results revealing a fine-tuning of the chimerical somatic genetic components in response to changes in environmental conditions are discussed. Results further elucidate the possible existence of multichimeras, each made of several genotypes. It is proposed that natural multichimeras form more stable and vigorous entities, depicting a unique way for domesticating consortia of selfish cells that may otherwise seriously threaten survivorship of the entity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)93-109
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 14 Sep 2005
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The study was supported by the US–Israel Bi-National Science Foundation and by the Israel Science Foundation (456/01). [RH]


  • Allorecognition
  • Botrylloides
  • Botryllus
  • Chimera
  • Evolution
  • Germ cell
  • Parasitism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science


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