China find could shift timing of eukaryotes’ becoming multicellular
A form of multicellular life visible to the naked eye may have emerged nearly a billion years earlier than scientists once thought.
At 1.56 billion years old, fossils discovered in north China represent the best evidence yet for the early existence of large eukaryotes, paleobiologist Maoyan Zhu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Nanjing and colleagues report May 17 in Nature Communications.
Eukaryotes, which have cells containing nuclei and other membrane-wrapped machinery, include everything from plants to people. The new find could mark when single-celled eukaryotes became multicellular organisms capable of drawing energy from the sun, says geobiologist Shuhai Xiao of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, who was not involved in the research. “That’s why it’s important,” he says. “The fossils represent one of the major transitions in evolution.”