Magazine article Science News

Evidence for Earlier Multicellular Life: Soft-Bodied Creatures Presumed to Have Breathed Oxygen

Magazine article Science News

Evidence for Earlier Multicellular Life: Soft-Bodied Creatures Presumed to Have Breathed Oxygen

Article excerpt

Researchers have found what may be the oldest evidence of multicellular life on Earth. Centimeter-sized fossils uncovered in 2.1-billion-year-old rock from Gabon, in west-central Africa, appear to be examples of macroscopic life in what was then a sea of single-celled microbes.

Scientists believe that multicellular life really took hold much later, in the great expansion of animal body plans known as the Cambrian explosion, which began about 540 million years ago.

"The discovery is fantastic because it shows the existence of multicellular fauna 1.5 billion years earlier than what we know" says team leader Abderrazak El Albani, a sedimentologist and paleobiologist at the University of Poitiers in France. "This is important to understand the evolution of life on Earth."

Some evidence suggests a few species of multicellular organisms may have arisen as early as 1.6 billion years ago, but that evidence is controversial. El Albani and his colleagues were thus surprised to find large fossils in the newly excavated ancient Gabonese rocks. So far, the researchers report in the July 1 Nature, they have collected more than 250 specimens ranging in size from 0.7 to 12 centimeters.

Using detailed X-ray imaging the team created 3-D images of the fossils inside and out. The organisms had flat, oblong, soft bodies, with slits around the edges and complex, patterned folds inside.

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Other researchers agree that the large size, thickness and three-dimensionality of the organisms suggest that they were indeed multicellular. …

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