[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The Early Cambrian organism Olivooides is known from both embryonic and post-embryonic stages and, consequently, it has the potential to yield vital insights into developmental evolution at the time that animal body plans were established. However, this potential can only be realized if the phylogenetic relationships of Olivooides can be constrained. The affinities of Olivooides have proved controversial because of the lack of knowledge of the internal anatomy and the limited range of developmental stages known. Here, we describe rare embryonic specimens in which internal anatomical features are preserved. We also present a fuller sequence of fossilized developmental stages of Olivooides, including associated specimens that we interpret as budding ephyrae (juvenile medusae), all of which display a clear pentaradial symmetry. Within the framework of a cnidarian interpretation, the new data serve to pinpoint the phylogenetic position of Olivooides to the scyphozoan stem group. Hypotheses about scalidophoran or echinoderm affinities of Olivooides can be rejected.
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 01/2013; 280(1757):20130071. · 5.68 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The Ediacaran Doushantuo biota has yielded fossils that include the oldest widely accepted record of the animal evolutionary lineage, as well as specimens with alleged bilaterian affinity. However, these systematic interpretations are contingent on the presence of key biological structures that have been reinterpreted by some workers as artefacts of diagenetic mineralization. On the basis of chemistry and crystallographic fabric, we characterize and discriminate phases of mineralization that reflect: (i) replication of original biological structure, and (ii) void-filling diagenetic mineralization. The results indicate that all fossils from the Doushantuo assemblage preserve a complex mélange of mineral phases, even where subcellular anatomy appears to be preserved. The findings allow these phases to be distinguished in more controversial fossils, facilitating a critical re-evaluation of the Doushantuo fossil assemblage and its implications as an archive of Ediacaran animal diversity. We find that putative subcellular structures exhibit fabrics consistent with preservation of original morphology. Cells in later developmental stages are not in original configuration and are therefore uninformative concerning gastrulation. Key structures used to identify Doushantuo bilaterians can be dismissed as late diagenetic artefacts. Therefore, when diagenetic mineralization is considered, there is no convincing evidence for bilaterians in the Doushantuo assemblage.
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 02/2012; 279(1737):2369-76. · 5.68 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Fossilized embryos with extraordinary cellular preservation appear in the Late Neoproterozoic and Cambrian, coincident with the appearance of animal body fossils. It has been hypothesized that microbial processes are responsible for preservation and mineralization of organic tissues. However, the actions of microbes in preservation of embryos have not been demonstrated experimentally. Here, we show that bacterial biofilms assemble rapidly in dead marine embryos and form remarkable pseudomorphs in which the bacterial biofilm replaces and exquisitely models details of cellular organization and structure. The experimental model was the decay of cleavage stage embryos similar in size and morphology to fossil embryos. The data show that embryo preservation takes place in 3 distinct steps: (i) blockage of autolysis by reducing or anaerobic conditions, (ii) rapid formation of microbial biofilms that consume the embryo but form a replica that retains cell organization and morphology, and (iii) bacterially catalyzed mineralization. Major bacterial taxa in embryo decay biofilms were identified by using 16S rDNA sequencing. Decay processes were similar in different taphonomic conditions, but the composition of bacterial populations depended on specific conditions. Experimental taphonomy generates preservation states similar to those in fossil embryos. The data show how fossilization of soft tissues in sediments can be mediated by bacterial replacement and mineralization, providing a foundation for experimentally creating biofilms from defined microbial species to model fossilization as a biological process.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 01/2009; 105(49):19360-5. · 9.74 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Experimental analyses of decay in a tunicate deuterostome and three lophotrochozoans indicate that the controls on decay and preservation of embryos, identified previously based on echinoids, are more generally applicable. Four stages of decay are identified regardless of the environment of death and decay. Embryos decay rapidly in oxic and anoxic conditions, although the gross morphology of embryos is maintained for longer under anoxic conditions. Under anoxic reducing conditions, the gross morphology of the embryos is maintained for the longest period of time, compatible with the timescale required for bacterially mediated mineralization of soft tissues. All four stages of decay were encountered under all environmental conditions, matching the spectrum of preservational qualities encountered in all fossil embryo assemblages. The preservation potential of embryos of deuterostomes and lophotrochozoans is at odds with the lack of such embryos in the fossil record. Rather, the fossil record of embryos, as sparse as it is, is dominated by forms interpreted as ecdysozoans, cnidarians, and stem-metazoans. The dearth of deuterostome and lophotrochozoan embryos may be explained by the fact that ecdysozoans, at least, tend to deposit their eggs in the sediment rather than through broadcast spawning. However, fossil embryos remain very rare and the main controlling factor on their fossilization may be the unique conspiracy of environmental conditions at a couple of sites. The preponderance of fossilized embryos of direct developers should not be used in evidence against the existence of indirect development at this time in animal evolutionary history.
Evolution & Development 10(3):339-49. · 3.16 Impact Factor