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Fossil algae hold clues to origin of modern photosynthesis
“The debate over the origin of the lineage that led to multicellular life — and thus plants and animals — has raged for decades. To identify when these ‘eukaryotes’ emerged, researchers need well-preserved fossils, complete with characteristics such as complex internal structures surrounded by membranes. Now, a newly discovered set of specimens that are about 1.6 billion years old may help to reveal the truth.
Stefan Bengtson, a paleobiologist at the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, Sweden who led the team that made the discovery, thinks these fossils could represent the oldest red algae, and therefore the oldest eukaryotic specimens, found so far. If they are indeed red algae, they could also push back the date for the origin of photosynthetic algae and plants by several hundred million years.
The researchers found three sets of these fossils, which are described in a study published on March 14 in PLoS Biology, in a region of central India. The first set is arranged like a stack of coins and is probably a colonial bacterium that the authors name Denaricion mendax. The other two, which the team calls Rafatazmia chitrakootensis and Ramathallus lobatus, look like long filaments separated into smaller chambers.
Seeing the light
“People have found older fossils that might be eukaryotes,” says Stefan. But so far, no one has been able to see their internal structures to confirm that. Based on X-ray images of the fossils, researchers found what look like complex, well-preserved structures inside Rafatazmia. These include what could be a plantlike cell wall and internal dividers called sept. According to Stefan, the septum’s structure shows that these fossils are definitely red algae, and are therefore eukaryotic and capable of photosynthesis.” (…) READ MORE
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