Rainbow cells: Biodiversity was the first step toward complex life


Margaret Coulombe

People overlook that fact that biodiversity may have been one of the earliest features of single cell organisms some four billion years ago. A column in the August issue of Scientific American notes that "single-celled creatures may have acquired genetic diversity early on due to simple cell division." While mistakes creep into genetic materials, the article goes on to note that they also produce variants that enhance a cell's abilty to survive: "This basic fact of evolution applied to the early Earth."

Andrew Hamilton, assistant professor in Arizona State University's School of Life Sciences, was quoted, noting that "variation is necessary for there to be evolution by natural selection in the first place. Biodiversity originated at the point that there was variation on which selection could operate."

Hamilton is the director of graduate programs for the Center for Biology and Society and the associate director for the history and philosophy of taxonomy with ASU's International Institute for Species Exploration.