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Multicellular life may have begun with brief alliances between cells

Single-celled organisms called Stentor can feed more efficiently by pairing up, illustrating a possible stage in the evolution of complex life forms


27 January 2023

New Scientist Default Image

Stentor coeruleus cells forming a colony

Shekhar et al

A giant, trumpet-shaped cell that skulks in the bottom of ponds has given scientists a new clue about how single-celled creatures may have taken the first steps towards evolving into multicellular ones, a key transition in the evolution of life.

For this to happen, there had to be a benefit for single cells to club together, such as improved reproduction or feeding. Studies investigating these ideas have focused mainly on creatures that form groups or colonies in which some cells develop specialised functions, and where …

Source link The origins of multicellular life have long been shrouded in mystery. Scientists have long debated how – and when – complex multicellular organisms with eukaryotic cells first appeared on Earth. While debate over the timeline persists, a new study suggests that the beginning of life as we know it began with brief alliances between cells.

The research, which was published in Science, indicates that early multicellular life may not have always been ‘complex’, as is normally assumed. Instead, the study posits that collective behavior may have emerged in individual cells forming transient alliances to tackle particular problems.

Starting with simpler cell structures, called prokaryotic cells, scientists found that these cells often formed cellular networks upon being stimulated. In particular, they noticed a phenomenon known as ‘quorum sensing’ in which the cells work in harmony to sense their environment and respond accordingly.

It appears that the alliances may have given the cells an evolutionary edge in a competitive environment, allowing them to become bigger and better adapted to their environment. The alliances also provided more efficient mechanisms of self-organisation and communication with each other, which may have increased thecells’ ability to perform functions as one.

The findings are fascinating as it appears that the cooperative behavior predates the existence of multicellular organisms. This means that we must look beyond conventional models of evolutionary history and consider how ecological factors could shape the emergence of complex forms of life. The knowledge gained from this research may also prove useful in designing better experimental models and artificial life forms.

All in all, this recent research provides crucial evidence about the early development of multicellular life, shedding light on how cellular alliances may have formed in a pre-existing, complex world. It shows that life may not have been so complex from the beginning, and that alliances between cells may have played an important role in the evolution of species.

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