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African fossils suggest complex life arose early

Multicellular creatures may have gotten going 2.1 billion years ago

1:34pm, June 30, 2010

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

Scientists believe that multicellular life really took off much later, in the great expansion of animal body plans known as the Cambrian explosion 545 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 researchers have suggested multicellular organisms arose as early as 1.6 billion years ago, but the evidence is controversial. El Albani and his colleagues were thus surprised to f

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