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Multicellular Life Began far Earlier than Thought: Fossil Evidence

May 19, 2016

Chinese scientists have found fossils of the world's oldest known multicellular organisms, dating back as far as 1.56 billion years, nearly 1 billion years earlier than previous estimates of the start of multicellular life.

An article on research by the Chinese Academy of Sciences Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology was published on Wednesday in the journal "Nature Communications".

Zhu Maoyan, who led the research, told Xinhua on Wednesday that the fossils were found in carbon-rich compressions in north China's Hebei Province. The biggest was 30 cm long and 8 cm wide.

The Yanshan Mountain region of Qianxi and Kuanxian counties in Hebei has Mesoproterozoic sedimentary mudstone. Organic fragments extracted from the host rock show well-preserved multicellular cell structures.

Zhu said the findings show that multicellular life with modest diversity populated the early Mesoproterozoic seas, but the species' affinity to extant species remains unclear.

"Further research will shed light on the ancient marine ecosystem," he said.

Prior to this discovery, fossils of multicellular life only dated back some 600 million years. The new fossils show organisms large enough to be visible to the naked eye and predate the diversification of multicellular life by nearly 1 billion years. (Xinhua)

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