Newly uncovered fossils hint that multicellular life may have evolved more than 2 billion years ago -- some 200 million years earlier than previously expected, according to a study published this week in Nature.
Reconstruction of a specimen from Gabon
showing the peripheral radial fabric
and inner structural organization

Image: A. El Albani
The fossils are "not really [what] you expect to find in the rock record 2 billion years before present," said paleontologist linkurl:Philip Donoghue; of the University of Bristol, who was not involved in the research. "These fossils are centimeters in size" and "relatively thick" -- too large to be just a single cell, he said. The once-biological shapes carved out of black shale formations in Africa outdate the next oldest example of what may have been multicellular life by about 200 million years. Unfortunately, "there's nothing preserved inside," said Donoghue, who wrote an accompanying perspective. "You...
The ScientistA. El Albani, et al., "Large colonial organisms with coordinated growth in oxygenated environments 2.1 Gyr ago," Nature, 466:100-4, 2010.

Interested in reading more?

Become a Member of

Receive full access to more than 35 years of archives, as well as TS Digest, digital editions of The Scientist, feature stories, and much more!
Already a member?