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Molecular fossils from organically preserved Ediacara biota reveal cyanobacterial origin for Beltanelliformis


The Ediacara biota (~575–541 million years ago) mark the emergence of large, complex organisms in the palaeontological record, preluding the radiation of modern animal phyla. However, their phylogenetic relationships, even at the domain level, remain controversial. We report the discovery of molecular fossils from organically preserved specimens of Beltanelliformis, demonstrating that they represent large spherical colonies of cyanobacteria. The conservation of molecular remains in organically preserved Ediacaran organisms opens a new path for unravelling the natures of the Ediacara biota.

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Fig. 1: Distribution of steranes, hopanes and n-alkanes in the extracts of a macroalgal film and Beltanelliformis.


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This study was funded by the Australian Research Council grants DP160100607 and DP170100556 (to J.J.B.). I.B. gratefully acknowledges an Australian Research Council Research Training Program scholarship. The authors are grateful to E. Luzhnaya, A. Nagovitsyn, M. Luzhnaya, P. Rychkov and V. Rychkov for help in the field, L. Zaytseva and E. Luzhnaya for scanning electron microscope imaging of organic matter, and J. K. Volkman, S. Xiao, N. J. Butterfield and R. E. Summons for helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.

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Authors and Affiliations



I.B. conceived the study and performed the analyses. I.B. and A.K. collected the samples. J.M.H. helped with the methodology. A.I. provided palaeontological advice. I.B. and J.J.B. interpreted the results and wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to Jochen J. Brocks.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary methods, information, references and figures

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Supplementary Dataset

A numerical computation of the percentage of hopanes in the Beltanelliformis extract

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Bobrovskiy, I., Hope, J.M., Krasnova, A. et al. Molecular fossils from organically preserved Ediacara biota reveal cyanobacterial origin for Beltanelliformis. Nat Ecol Evol 2, 437–440 (2018).

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