The Origin of Metazoa: A Unicellular Perspective

Nat Rev Genet. 2017 Aug;18(8):498-512. doi: 10.1038/nrg.2017.21. Epub 2017 May 8.


The first animals evolved from an unknown single-celled ancestor in the Precambrian period. Recently, the identification and characterization of the genomic and cellular traits of the protists most closely related to animals have shed light on the origin of animals. Comparisons of animals with these unicellular relatives allow us to reconstruct the first evolutionary steps towards animal multicellularity. Here, we review the results of these investigations and discuss their implications for understanding the earliest stages of animal evolution, including the origin of metazoan genes and genome function.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Eukaryota / classification
  • Eukaryota / cytology
  • Eukaryota / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Phylogeny