Biological Theory 14 (1):30-41 (2019)

Pierre M. Durand
University of The Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
In multicellular organisms, cells are frequently programmed to die. This makes good sense: cells that fail to, or are no longer playing important roles are eliminated. From the cell’s perspective, this also makes sense, since somatic cells in multicellular organisms require the cooperation of clonal relatives. In unicellular organisms, however, programmed cell death poses a difficult and unresolved evolutionary problem. The empirical evidence for PCD in diverse microbial taxa has spurred debates about what precisely PCD means in the case of unicellular organisms. In this article, we survey the concepts of PCD in the literature and the selective pressures associated with its evolution. We show that definitions of PCD have been almost entirely mechanistic and fail to separate questions concerning what PCD fundamentally is from questions about the kinds of mechanisms that realize PCD. We conclude that an evolutionary definition is best able to distinguish PCD from closely related phenomena. Specifically, we define “true” PCD as an adaptation for death triggered by abiotic or biotic environmental stresses. True PCD is thus not only an evolutionary product but must also have been a target of selection. Apparent PCD resulting from pleiotropy, genetic drift, or trade-offs is not true PCD. We call this “ersatz PCD.”
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1007/s13752-018-0311-0
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 70,079
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Evolution and the Levels of Selection.Samir Okasha - 2006 - Oxford University Press.
Evolution and the Levels of Selection.Samir Okasha - 2009 - Critica 41 (123):162-170.
Exaptation–A Missing Term in the Science of Form.Stephen Jay Gould & Elisabeth S. Vrba - 1982 - In David L. Hull & Michael Ruse (eds.), The Philosophy of Biology. Oxford University Press.

View all 21 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Morir Para Vivir. La Muerte Celular Como Proceso Regulador.María Belén Campero, Cristián Favre & Cristian Saborido - forthcoming - Theoria. An International Journal for Theory, History and Foundations of Science.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Programmed Cell Death.R. W. Oppenheim - 1999 - In M. J. Zigmond & F. E. Bloom (eds.), Fundamental Neuroscience. pp. 581--609.
Defining Death for Persons and Human Organisms.John P. Lizza - 1999 - Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 20 (5):439-453.


Added to PP index

Total views
42 ( #269,717 of 2,506,097 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
3 ( #209,711 of 2,506,097 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes