Decimetre-scale multicellular eukaryotes from the 1.56-billion-year-old Gaoyuzhuang Formation in North China
Zhu et al
Fossils of macroscopic eukaryotes are rarely older than the Ediacaran Period (635–541 million years (Myr)), and their interpretation remains controversial. Here, we report the discovery of macroscopic fossils from the 1,560-Myr-old Gaoyuzhuang Formation, Yanshan area, North China, that exhibit both large size and regular morphology. Preserved as carbonaceous compressions, the Gaoyuzhuang fossils have statistically regular linear to lanceolate shapes up to 30 cm long and nearly 8 cm wide, suggesting that the Gaoyuzhuang fossils record benthic multicellular eukaryotes of unprecedentedly large size. Syngenetic fragments showing closely packed ~10 μm cells arranged in a thick sheet further reinforce the interpretation. Comparisons with living thalloid organisms suggest that these organisms were photosynthetic, although their phylogenetic placement within the Eukarya remains uncertain. The new fossils provide the strongest evidence yet that multicellular eukaryotes with decimetric dimensions and a regular developmental program populated the marine biosphere at least a billion years before the Cambrian Explosion.