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11.23: Evolution of Eukaryotes to Multicellular Life

Difficulty Level: Basic Created by: CK-12
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If you could go back to the late Precambrian, would you recognize this as an ancestor of modern life?

This is a member of the Ediacara fauna. No one knows quite how to categorize these organisms. Some scientists think that they are the ancestors of modern life. But most scientists think that the Ediacara fauna died out. Other organisms were the ancestors of modern life. If you could go back in time maybe you could figure it out. But since no one can do that, is there any way to really know?

Life Gets More Complex

Eukaryotes evolved about 2 billion years ago. Unlike prokaryotes, eukaryotes have a cell nucleus. They have more structures and are better organized. Organelles within a eukaryote can perform certain functions. Some supply energy; some break down wastes. Eukaryotes were better able to live and so became the dominant life form. You can see an example of a eukaryotic cell in the Figure below.

A eukaryotic cell. This one is from an animal.

Multi-Cellular Life Originates

For life to become even more complex, multicellular organisms needed to evolve. Prokaryotes and eukaryotes can be multicellular.

Toward the end of the Precambrian, the Ediacara fauna evolved (Figure below). The Ediacara fauna was extremely diverse. The organisms appeared after Earth defrosted from a worldwide glaciation. The Ediacara fauna seem to have died out without leaving ancestors. Other multicellular organisms appeared in the Phanerozoic.

An example of an Ediacara organism.


  • eukaryote: A cell with a separate nucleus to hold its DNA and RNA.


  • Eukaryotic cells have a nucleus. They also have well developed structures.
  • Eukaryotes did not evolve until 2 billion years ago.
  • Ediacara organisms probably went extinct. Other organisms were the ancestors to modern life.


Use this resource to answer the questions that follow.

The Evolution of Multicellular Life at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6GDdfB1wbOg (3:39)

  1. What has the experiment with yeast shown?
  2. How many times has multicellular life developed on Earth?
  3. What did scientists use to create multicellular yeast?
  4. What did the yeast clusters prove?
  5. Why is this study important?
  6. What is the next step for scientists?


  1. Compare and contrast prokayrotes and eukaryotes.
  2. Why are organelles important to cells?
  3. What are the Ediacara fauna?

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eukaryote Cell with a separate nucleus to hold its DNA and RNA.

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Difficulty Level:
6 , 7
Date Created:
Jan 04, 2013
Last Modified:
Aug 29, 2016
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