Editor's Summary

1 July 2010

Early multicellular life

A series of well preserved centimetre-scale fossils in an extended fossiliferous level within black shales near Franceville, in Gabon, West Africa, provides a glimpse of perhaps the earliest form of multicellular life so far discovered. Evidence for multicellular life before the Mesoproterozoic era (1.6–1.0 billion years ago) is scarce and controversial. These new finds are from sediments dated at 2.1 billion years old, not long after the rise in atmospheric oxygen concentration and about a billion and a half years before the rapid expansion in multicellular life forms known as the 'Cambrian explosion'. The fossils are variously sized and shaped remains of well-structured soft-bodied organisms, some exhibiting wrinkles suggestive of flexible sheet-like structures. Their shape and regular fabric indicate a multicellular degree of organization. These fossils may represent the earliest evidence so far reported for cell-to-cell signalling and coordinated growth behaviour on the scale of macroorganisms.

News and ViewsEarly life: Origins of multicellularity

Interpreting truly ancient fossils is an especially tricky business. The conclusion that 2.1-billion-year-old structures from Gabon are the remains of large colonial organisms will get palaeobiologists talking.

Philip C. J. Donoghue & Jonathan B. Antcliffe


LetterLarge colonial organisms with coordinated growth in oxygenated environments 2.1Gyr ago

Abderrazak El Albani, Stefan Bengtson, Donald E. Canfield, Andrey Bekker, Roberto Macchiarelli, Arnaud Mazurier, Emma U. Hammarlund, Philippe Boulvais, Jean-Jacques Dupuy, Claude Fontaine, Franz T. Fürsich, François Gauthier-Lafaye, Philippe Janvier, Emmanuelle Javaux, Frantz Ossa Ossa, Anne-Catherine Pierson-Wickmann, Armelle Riboulleau, Paul Sardini, Daniel Vachard, Martin Whitehouse & Alain Meunier