Volvox – early collaborative intelligence

Volvox is a genus of freshwater green algae often found in ponds, ditches, or shallow puddles — one of the earliest communities manifesting collaborative intelligence. Volvox played a unique role as a precursor of multicellularity, illustrating how collaboration came very early in evolution. Volvox diverged from unicellular ancestors about 200 million years ago.


Antonie Philips van Leeuwenhoek (1632 – 1723) invented the microscope and then used his new invention to discover volvox, which he described in 1676 and studied in 1700.

Volvox is a tiny tiny planet composed of 500 to many thousands of even tinier flagellate organisms, each with its own eyespot, all swimming, in configuration, toward the light. Those in front lead. They have more developed eyespots; others in the rear have differentiated to perform reproductive functions. Except during the formation of daughter colonies, vegetative cells form a single layer with the flagella facing outward.

These communities of cells swim in a coordinated fashion, with distinct anterior and posterior poles. The cells have eyespots, more developed near the anterior to enable the colony to swim towards light. The individual algae in some species are interconnected by thin strands of cytoplasm, called protoplasmates. They are known to demonstrate some individuality in working for the good of their colony, behaving as if they were a single multicellular organism.

Related topics:

If Microbes begat Mind: origins of life & intelligence

       The Paradox of Prediction



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