Metamorphic Mergers

1700 MYA

In many places on Earth, complex new cells arise as microbes permanently merge. These community members form consortia in new ways: some eat but do not totally digest other microbes; others form peaceful alliances.

Protoctists, whose name means simply "first established beings," are like mythic chimera, assembled from distinctly different beings. Sudden symbiotic alliances, supplemented by gradual mutations, transform the face of life. The great Kingdom Protoctista is born, launching life toward increasing complexity, new perils and new potential.

Alga happily photosynthesizing and leaking foodstuffs to other less fortunate beings in its surroundings. (Photograph by Ludwig Kies)

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