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Doushantuo embryos preserved inside diapause egg cysts

Abstract

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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Figure 1: Large acanthomorphic acritarchs, some containing preserved embryos, in the Ediacaran Doushantuo Formation, Xiaofenghe section, western Hubei Province, China.
Figure 2: Xiaofenghe section of the Doushantuo Formation, showing the stratigraphic distribution of large acanthomorph acritarchs.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Major Basic Research Projects of MST of China, and an NSF Grant. We thank S. Xiao and P. Cohen for discussions.

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Correspondence to Leiming Yin.

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Reprints and permissions information is available at npg.nature.com/reprintsandpermissions. The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Yin, L., Zhu, M., Knoll, A. et al. Doushantuo embryos preserved inside diapause egg cysts. Nature 446, 661–663 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature05682

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