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Did Bacteria Spark Evolution of Multicellular Life?

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Bacteria have a bad rap as agents of disease, but scientists are increasingly discovering their many benefits, such as maintaining a healthy gut.

A new study now suggests that bacteria may also have helped kick off one of the key events in evolution: the leap from one-celled organisms to many-celled organisms, a development that eventually led to all animals, including humans.

Published this month in the inaugural edition of the new online journal eLife, the study by University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard Medical School scientists involves choanoflagellates (aka "choanos"), the closest living relatives of animals. These microscopic, one-celled organisms sport a long tail or flagellum, tentacles for grabbing food and are members of the ocean's plankton community. As our closest living relative, choanos offer critical insights into the biology of their last common ancestor with animals, a unicellular or colonial organism that lived and died over 650 million years ago.

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