Letter

Nature 446, 661-663 (5 April 2007) | doi:10.1038/nature05682; Received 8 January 2007; Accepted 13 February 2007

Doushantuo embryos preserved inside diapause egg cysts

Leiming Yin1, Maoyan Zhu1, Andrew H. Knoll2, Xunlai Yuan1, Junming Zhang1 & Jie Hu1

  1. State Key Laboratory of Paleobiology and Stratigraphy, Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Nanjing 210008, China
  2. Botanical Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA

Correspondence to: Leiming Yin1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to L.Y. (Email: leimingyin@yahoo.com.cn).

Phosphatized microfossils in the Ediacaran (635–542 Myr ago) Doushantuo Formation, south China, have been interpreted as the embryos of early animals1, 2, 3, 4. Despite experimental demonstration that embryos can be preserved5, microstructural evidence that the Doushantuo remains are embryonic6 and an unambiguous record of fossil embryos in Lower Cambrian rocks7, questions about the phylogenetic relationships of these fossils remain. Most recently, some researchers have proposed8 that Doushantuo microfossils may be giant sulphur-oxidizing bacteria comparable to extant Thiomargarita sp. Here we report new observations that provide a test of the bacterial hypothesis. The discovery of embryo-like Doushantuo fossils inside large, highly ornamented organic vesicles (acritarchs) indicates that these organisms were eukaryotic, and most probably early cleavage stage embryos preserved within diapause egg cysts. Large acanthomorphic microfossils of the type observed to contain fossil embryos first appear in rocks just above a 632.5±0.5-Myr-old ash bed9, suggesting that at least stem-group animals6 inhabited shallow seas in the immediate aftermath of global Neoproterozoic glaciation.

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