Preprint Review Version 1 Preserved in Portico This version is not peer-reviewed

The Single-Celled Ancestors of Animals: A History of Hypotheses

Version 1 : Received: 5 November 2020 / Approved: 10 November 2020 / Online: 10 November 2020 (11:18:25 CET)

A peer-reviewed article of this Preprint also exists.

Herron, M.D.; Conlin, P.L.; Ratcliff, W.C. The Evolution of Multicellularity. 2022, doi:10.1201/9780429351907. Herron, M.D.; Conlin, P.L.; Ratcliff, W.C. The Evolution of Multicellularity. 2022, doi:10.1201/9780429351907.


Animals, with their complex and obligate multicellularity, evolved from microbial eukaryotes that were likely obligately or facultatively unicellular. The nature of the unicellular progenitors of animals has intrigued biologists since the late 19th century, coinciding with the parallel spread of the cell theory and the theory of evolution. However, views on the ancestry of animals have been extremely varied. The huge diversity of single-celled organisms, the tremendous plasticity of animal cellular phenotypes, and the difficulties of organizing both into clear phylogenies in the pre-molecular era allowed a wide range of hypotheses to flourish, with nearly every major single-celled lineage, at one time or another, having been proposed as the precursor of animals. Most of these hypotheses never gained followers beyond their originator (such as the ideas that animals evolved directly from either bacteria, Volvox or fungi) and will not be discussed here. Three concepts, however, have been enduring and influential: (1) the amoeboid theory; (2) the flagellate theory; and the (3) the ciliate theory – to which a fourth category can now be added: (4) a mixed model, in which the ancestor was phenotypically plastic. We will discuss their origin, history, and current relevance.


evolutionary cell biology; evo-devo; animal origins; choanoflagellates; history of science; Haeckel; Metchnikoff; Blastaea; origin of multicellularity


Biology and Life Sciences, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

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