Simple multicellularity has evolved numerous times within the Eukarya, but complex multicellular organisms belong to only six clades: animals, embryophytic land plants, florideophyte red algae, laminarialean brown algae, and two groups of fungi. Phylogeny and genomics suggest a generalized trajectory for the evolution of complex multicellularity, beginning with the co-optation of existing genes for adhesion. Molecular channels to facilitate cell-cell transfer of nutrients and signaling molecules appear to be critical, as this trait occurs in all complex multicellular organisms but few others. Proliferation of gene families for transcription factors and cell signals accompany the key functional innovation of complex multicellular clades: differentiated cells and tissues for the bulk transport of oxygen, nutrients, and molecular signals that enable organisms to circumvent the physical limitations of diffusion. The fossil records of animals and plants document key stages of this trajectory.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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