Decimetre-scale multicellular eukaryotes from the 1.56-billion-year-old Gaoyuzhuang Formation in North China
Shixing Zhu, Maoyan Zhu, Andrew H. Knoll, Zongjun Yin, Fangchen Zhao, Shufen Sun, Yuangao Qu, Min Shi & Huan Liu
Affiliations Contributions Corresponding author
Nature Communications 7, Article number: 11500 doi:10.1038/ncomms11500
Received 21 November 2015 Accepted 04 April 2016 Published 17 May 2016
Fossils of macroscopic eukaryotes are rarely older than the Ediacaran Period (635–541 million years (Myr)), and their interpretation remains controversial. Here, we report the discovery of macroscopic fossils from the 1,560-Myr-old Gaoyuzhuang Formation, Yanshan area, North China, that exhibit both large size and regular morphology. Preserved as carbonaceous compressions, the Gaoyuzhuang fossils have statistically regular linear to lanceolate shapes up to 30 cm long and nearly 8 cm wide, suggesting that the Gaoyuzhuang fossils record benthic multicellular eukaryotes of unprecedentedly large size. Syngenetic fragments showing closely packed ~10 μm cells arranged in a thick sheet further reinforce the interpretation. Comparisons with living thalloid organisms suggest that these organisms were photosynthetic, although their phylogenetic placement within the Eukarya remains uncertain. The new fossils provide the strongest evidence yet that multicellular eukaryotes with decimetric dimensions and a regular developmental program populated the marine biosphere at least a billion years before the Cambrian Explosion.
Subject terms: Biological sciences Evolution Palaeontology