Did detoxification processes cause complex life to emerge?



John Saul [john.saul@wanadoo.fr], ORYX, 3 rue Bourdaloue, 75009 Paris, France; manuscript received on 23/12/07; manuscript accepted on 30/04/08.


Excess oxygen is toxic for many cells and cell function can be disrupted by calcium, even if present in small amounts. Cells avoid the toxic effects of these substances by excreting oxygen-rich or Ca-containing molecules. The origin of macroscopic multi-celled animals (metazoans) can be attributed to the excretion of oxygen-rich collagen molecules (or their precursors) at a time when the seas were for the first time both oxygenated and sufficiently loaded with phosphorus for the energy (ATP) requirements of sizable metazoans. With subsequent increase of Ca in the marine environment, hard parts of CaCO3 were produced. Excretion of oxygen in combination with abundant phosphorus permitted phosphate biomineralization. In this view, the most informative biological development during the late Neoproterozoic was not the emergence of metazoans but the initial construction of viable tissues. When tissue integrity is lost, whether due to low oxygen, collagen failure, injury, chemical insult or other reasons, individual cells are released from tissue-constraints. To survive, they may then revert to unicellular life-styles that emphasize cellular proliferation and variation. When this occurs in metazoans, the result may be cancer.