Multicellular Evolution

The origin of life articles just keep on coming from the evolutionary scientific community.  Usually, they take the form of attempting to explain the origin of the first cell, or the parts of the first cell.  However, on occasion, they attempt to explain the origin of multicellular life.  Recently, an article appeared in the literature claiming that a species of green algae had evolved from a single-celled organism into a multi-cellular organism.  However, as usual, there is some significant smoke and mirrors going on.  Let’s dive in and see what these researchers actually discovered.

The particular species of green algae used in this experiment were normally unicellular.  However, the researchers decided to test their response to predators.  They introduced a single-celled predator, called a Paramecium, into their cell cultures.  Over the course of fifty weeks,  the population of green algae slowly began to live a multi-cellular lifestyle, at least part of the time. In some populations, this did not happen, and in others, the lifestyle did not become predominant, but in at least some populations, multicellular living became the rule, rather than the exception, at least in the presence of Paramecium.  To the evolutionists involved, this is evidence that, once life exists, it could evolve from one life form to another, in ever-advancing complexity.

The researchers theorized that the presence of a predator caused the origin of this multicellularity. In the colonies that did become multi-cellular, in some cases when they broke apart, they resumed a single-celled existence. In others, they broke apart and remained as smaller, multi-cellular groups. When they reproduced, sometimes the colonies produced single cells, while in other cases the colonies reproduced in colonies of much smaller size than their own.

As usual, there are lots of problems with this analysis.  The primary one comes from the way the researchers are using terms. These algae did adapt to multicellular life. However, they remained discrete individual cells and did not actually become a single individual. In other words, the single cells moved into a multi-cellular colony. The colony was made up of multiple, unique, single-celled individuals, rather than a single, multi-cellular organism.  This response of these algae seems to be a natural reaction to the presence of a predator in at least some instances.  This is not evolution. Instead, it is merely an adaptation to their environments.

To their credit, the researchers in the scientific journal do not actually claim that a multi-cellular organism evolved.  Instead, they argue that, because these algae “evolved” the ability to live in colonies, this proves they could somehow evolve from a single-celled organism to a single multi-cellular organism.  They make this as an inference from the adaptation they observe, rather than actual data.  The claim of evolution to a multi-cellular organism, rather than a colony, comes from the layman science news articles about the study. This is why it is so crucial to critically examine any claims made by lay science magazines. Often they do not accurately portray the information in the journal article correctly.

This article is symptomatic of the problem that is plaguing science and scientific reporting.  Often times researchers will couch their research papers in somewhat calculated terms, in an effort to not overly speculate and exaggerate their data.  However, science news reporters are often not nearly so conservative or careful in their reporting. Since most of the public will never read a scientific research paper, they are forced to accept the scientific news reporters as being accurate. Rarely do researchers bother to correct the exaggerations by scientific news reporters, and often, when they do, the damage has already been done. Thus it is incredibly important to critically evaluate everything that is passed off as news from the scientific community.  If it sounds too good to be true, and/or a bit absurd, it probably is.

These researchers, as usual, did not actually do what is being claimed they did. They did observe the algae moving to and from colonial life, but they did not evolve into multicellular organisms. Colonial organisms are not the same as multicellular organisms. Such a transition has never been observed and I severely doubt if it ever will be.  This study provided no evidence for evolution, simply adaptation to the algae’s environment.



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