This article is from
Creation 42(1):46–47, January 2020

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One for all and all for one

Did multi-celled creatures really evolve from single cells?

Aaron J. Bell/Science Sourcealga-Chlamydomonas-reinhardtii
Figure 1. The single-celled green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii.


According to evolutionary theory, living things developed from simpler to more complex organisms over billions of years via several major innovations. One such big step was the evolution of multicellular organisms from single-celled ones. This is a crucial phase of evolution, because multicellular organisms allow for multiple cell tissue types. This in turn permits more variability in living beings, allowing for mutations and natural selection to supposedly create a larger variety of organisms.1

Evolution in a test tube?

You might have heard evolutionists make bold claims about experiments which have supposedly shown this important hypothetical step in evolution actually happening.

One example involves laboratory experiments with green algae. These algae include single-cell species from the genus (Figure 1). Another algal taxon (group) is called Volvox, which includes multi-celled globe-shaped algae species of up to several thousand cells (Figure 2). Between these two forms there are several other taxa with intermediate numbers of cells (Figure 3);2 e.g. Gonium, which is made up of 8–32 cells. Evolutionists propose that the multicellular Volvox once evolved from a unicellular algal species like Chlamydomonas, through several intermediary stages with progressively greater cell numbers.

The experiment

Figure 2. Several Volvox species.

Researchers took several groups of the single-celled Chlamydomonas and put them into test tubes with a single-celled predator (the protozoan Paramecium tetraurelia) which could consume them. After 750 generations, the researchers discovered that some of the Chlamydomonas had taken on a multicellular form. This way the algae were too big for the predators to eat them.3 They were not ‘fully’ multicellular, breaking apart into single cells before dividing, but seemed to go through a coordinated life cycle. Evolutionists claim that this is a demonstration of at least a significant part of evolution from single-cell forms to multicellular forms, repeating a portion of the history of life. But is it?

The genetics of multicellularity

Chlamydomonas and Volvox are very similar at a genetic level even though they look very different.4 What caused this change from single-celled existence to at least a form of multicellularity in Chlamydomonas? Certain genes necessary for multicellularity exist in Volvox. One such gene codes for a protein which is sticky. The cells secrete this sticky material, which glues cells together, creating a multicellular form. Volvox, the multicellular species, has more copies of this gene than the single-celled Chlamydomonas. It is significant that both species have the same gene, leaving the question unanswered as to how this gene, necessary for multicellularity, supposedly evolved in the first place.

Researchers also found that several thousand (up to 20% of) Chlamydomonas genes behaved differently after the test tube experiments than at the beginning.5 This suggests that the environment (the presence of the predator species) caused the Chlamydomonas cells to take up a multicellular form by switching genes on or off (called epigenesis).

Evolution from microbes to men requires new genes with new functions to arise, but these experiments show no evidence of any such new genes. It was known that the genes for the multicellular form already existed in the single-cell species. In other words, the single-celled form already had the potential for multicellularity, needing only to be ‘switched on’ by this environmental cue. Whether it was enhanced by the natural selection of types with high sticky-protein production or not is an interesting question, but the point is still the same—no new genes, no new information, no evolution.

This process of a single-celled alga becoming multi-celled involves thousands of genes, and it is in any case inconceivable that they would all evolve in such a short time. But it takes only a short amount of time for these genes to merely change their expression and/or be selected for, as opposed to the genes themselves arising over millions of years of evolution.

It is even possible that these algae species devolved from the multicellular Volvox form to the single-celled Chlamydomonas form through genetic loss. This would certainly be consistent with biblical creation, and with the mutational deterioration going on in living things.

Summary and conclusion

Evolutionists would have us believe that they were able to rapidly ‘evolve’ a species exhibiting a type of multicellularity from unicellular forms in a very short time. This would give us the impression that a major and important evolutionary step has been observed happening, and that it can occur easily and rapidly. However, this picture is false, as we have seen. There is no evidence of a single new gene being produced, and not the slightest indication of how the genetic machinery for multicellularity could have evolved in the first place.

When we look at the finer details, as usual we see that the evidence supports creation and not evolution. The evidence implies that these organisms used a highly complex genetic mechanism for switching from a single-celled state to a multicellular state. This mechanism didn’t evolve but already existed, simply needing to be activated. It was created so as to permit this effect.

According to Genesis 1:12, “The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds”. Neither plants nor green algae such as Chlamydomonas evolved, but are rather the result of God’s creation. The Creator designed even single-celled algae to be incredibly complex and with a built-in capacity to adapt to various environments.

Source: Arakaki, Ref. 2.Chlamydomonas-to-Volvox
Figure 3. Hypothetical evolutionary transition from Chlamydomonas to Volvox.
Posted on homepage: 8 February 2021

References and notes

  1. Maynard Smith, J. and Szathmáry, E., The Major Transitions in Evolution, Oxford University Press, 1995. Return to text.
  2. Arakaki, Y. and seven others, The simplest integrated multicellular organism unveiled, PLoS One 8(12):e81641, 2013. Return to text.
  3. Herron, M.D. and eight others, De novo origins of multicellularity in response to predation, Scientific Reports 9(1):2328, 2019. Return to text.
  4. Prochnik, S.E. and 27 others, Genomic analysis of organismal complexity in the multicellular green alga Volvox carteri, Science 329(5988):223–6, 2010. Return to text.
  5. Herron, M.D., Origins of multicellular complexity: Volvox and the volvocine algae, Molecular Ecology 25(6):1213–23, 2016. Return to text.