Trichoplax adhaerens: Not So Simple After All

Simplest Life

by Dr. David W. Boyd, Jr. on March 1, 2020
Featured in Answers Magazine
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Even this seemingly simple animal bears the mark of divine design.

When God rested at the end of creation week, he must have enjoyed the array of life teeming on his earth. In his omniscience, he could even see the future diversity represented in those creatures. In fact, the creative Designer infused so much diversity in the animal kingdom that we still haven’t discovered all the different kinds and species.

Of course, evolutionists have a different origin story for all this diversity—a story void of the Creator’s hand. They believe that several single-celled organisms just happened to merge millions of years ago to form the first multicellular animal and that things started getting complex from there.

But is any kind of life simple enough to support their story that supposedly more complex animals formed from single-celled organisms? What about the simplest multicellular animal we know, Trichoplax adhaerens?

A Closer Look at the Complexity

Since its discovery in 1883 in an aquarium, a Trichoplax has never been observed in its natural habitat. Scientists collect specimens of this animal from ocean water by trapping them on glass slides to study in laboratories.

Though this tiny flat sea animal has no common name, its scientific name means “hairy, sticky plate”—because that’s what it looks like. It is only 25 micrometers thick (thinner than a sheet of paper) and can grow to a whopping three millimeters long, about the size of the sesame seed on a hamburger bun.

Because a Trichoplax lacks body symmetry, scientists can’t tell the front from the back or the right from the left. It has no blood, no mouth, no organs, no muscles, no nerves. At first, it resembles a single-celled amoeba, but a Trichoplax is actually made of 50,000 cells.

Despite its diminutive size, a Trichoplax has three distinct layers. On the lower layer, each cell contains one cilium (hair-like structure), which together act like tiny legs to move the creature from place to place. When it’s time to eat, a Trichoplax settles over organic debris or smaller organisms and releases chemicals that help it absorb the nutrients. It then digests the food in a temporary external stomach formed by creating a pocket of cells.

A Trichoplax’s flat upper layer features tiny dark spheres outside the cells. These microscopic balls contain something similar to snake venom that repels and even paralyzes possible predators, such as snails.

The fibrous middle layer connects the two outer layers and includes cells that move nutrients and waste products around the way a circulatory system does in other animals. Some scientists suggest that these cells help coordinate all of a Trichoplax’s movements.

Perhaps most impressive about this supposedly simple animal is what holds its cells together—desmosomes, the same adhesive cell structures that hold your cells together. In fact, all multicellular organisms that we know of (except for sponges) have desmosomes, and none of those organisms are considered simple.

Still Much to Learn

Even with all this cool knowledge, we still have much to learn. For example, some scientists believe that the Trichoplax might have a life stage not yet observed and that all the specimens they have studied so far might be in just the larval stage. Without knowing what to look for, scientists might have unknowingly overlooked the adult form.

Scientists are also still learning exactly how a Trichoplax reproduces. They know it reproduces asexually by dividing in half or breaking off many different body parts to increase numbers quickly. Scientists have also found eggs in the middle layer, evidence of sexual reproduction. But so far no one knows how the eggs got there.

A Simple Glimpse into the Past?

A Trichoplax does not provide evidence that multicellular organisms arose from the joining of single-celled, simple organisms.

Evolutionists believe that the Trichoplax gives them a glimpse at what the supposed earliest animals might have looked like and how those animals might have evolved more complicated features, such as mouths and nerves.

But a Trichoplax does not provide evidence that multicellular organisms arose from the joining of single-celled, simple organisms. Rather, a Trichoplax has all the necessary structures for functioning just as it was designed by an all-wise Creator. All creatures are specifically and intricately equipped to survive in their environments. The glorious complexity of life in all its forms should cause us to praise God’s great wisdom.

Dr. David W. Boyd Jr. earned a PhD in entomology from Clemson University in 2001 and served for five years as a research entomologist with the USDA. He is the head of the biology department at Bob Jones University.

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March–April 2020

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