Strange fossils from China hint at early multicellular life

600 million-year-old multicelled fossil

A 600 million-year-old fossil from China's Ediacaran Doushantuo Formation reveals what was once a multicelled organism growing an ellipsoidal structure within it. The entire fossil is about 0.7 millimeters across.

Lei Chen and Shuhai Xiao

New fossils of tiny, oblong organisms that lived 600 million years ago in what is now southern China are giving scientists hints to how living things may have moved from having a single cell to having many.

The fossils may represent early multicellular algae or possibly the embryos of ancient animals. They reveal that the organisms’ cells could differentiate into different types and that cell death was programmed, researchers report September 24 in Nature.

Ashley Yeager is the associate news editor at Science News. She has worked at The Scientist, the Simons Foundation, Duke University and the W.M. Keck Observatory, and was the web producer for Science News from 2013 to 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.

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