Missing Link Microbes May Help Explain How Single Cells Became Us

May 8, 2015

Image credit: R.B. Pedersen/Centre for Geobiology, Bergen, Norway

By Nell Greenfieldboyce

Scientists have discovered a group of microbes at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean that could provide new clues to how life went from being simple to complex.

There’s good evidence that life appeared soon after our planet formed — some 4.5 billion years ago — but the Earth wasn’t very hospitable. “The microbes that lived back then had to cope with completely different conditions,” says Thijs Ettema, a biologist at Uppsala University in Sweden. The life forms that eked out a living were bacteria, plus another group of microbes called the archaea.

“These are, typically, very small cells that look very simple,” Ettema says.

Then, starting about 2 billion years ago, much more fancy cells appeared — the kind of cells in your body and in all plants and animals.

These cells are larger, and their genetic material is wrapped inside a nucleus. Plus, they’ve got all kinds of little organs, like energy-producing mitochondria. In these cells, Ettema says, there’s just a whole lot of complicated business going on.


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4 comments on “Missing Link Microbes May Help Explain How Single Cells Became Us

  • Brilliantly the paper is linked. Key bit-

    Indeed based upon our result it seem plausible that the archeal ancestor of eukaryotes had a dynamic actin cytoskeleton and potentially endo and/or phagocytic capabilities, which would have facilitated the invagination of the mitochondrial progenitor.

    This was always a toughy. The teasing out of the capabilities of eukaryotes into clear evolved earlier steps does a lot to alter our views on the difficulty of the process.



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  • Whoever took that picture should enter it into Turner Prize

    I suspect Professor Pedersen isn’t British, so wouldn’t qualify. Great photos though…



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