From Elizabeth Pennisi at Science:
The evolutionary histories of some groups of organisms record repeated transitions from single-celled to multicellular forms, suggesting the hurdles could not have been so high. Genetic comparisons between simple multicellular organisms and their single-celled relatives have revealed that much of the molecular equipment needed for cells to band together and coordinate their activities may have been in place well before multicellularity evolved. And clever experiments have shown that in the test tube, single-celled life can evolve the beginnings of multicellularity in just a few hundred generations—an evolutionary instant.
Evolutionary biologists still debate what drove simple aggregates of cells to become more and more complex, leading to the wondrous diversity of life today. But embarking on that road no longer seems so daunting. “We are beginning to get a sense of how it might have occurred,” says Ben Kerr, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Washington in Seattle. “You take what seems to be a major step in evolution and make it a series of minor steps.” More.
So at the basic level, there is a program that adapts single cells to multicellularity? Yes, that certainly makes multicellularity easier and even swifter but it also make traditional Darwinian explanations sound ever more stretched.
See also: The minimal cell: How is research coming on a simple, self-replicating “artificial” cell? Researchers keep discovering new systems in cells. Minimizing or obviating what has not yet been discovered is going to be a challenge…