Buried Boron

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Science  12 Nov 2010:
Vol. 330, Issue 6006, pp. 891
DOI: 10.1126/science.330.6006.891-d
CREDIT: WOLKENSTEIN ET AL., PROC. NATL. ACAD. SCI. U.S.A. 107, 10.1073/PNAS.1007973107 (2010)

Certain classes of organic molecules, or biomarkers, can provide clues that are otherwise absent or unexpected from examinations of the physical structure of fossil specimens. Case in point: In seeking to identify the biomolecules responsible for the magenta-colored bands in fossils of calcareous red algae, Wolkenstein et al. happened upon a previously unseen class of boron-containing pigment, or borolithochrome. The low levels of boron in the surrounding sediments and the specific chirality of the pigment suggest that the structural boron occurred in the living algal cells. The bands in all of the Solenopora jurassica samples studied, from several localities in France and the United Kingdom, receive their coloring from this unusual pigment, demonstrating its stability and relatively wide occurrence. Because this borolithochrome has been observed only in S. jurassica fossils, it is possible that it is a biological anomaly confined to this ancient species. Lending further support to this hypothesis is the lack of any similar biomolecules in any known extant organisms.

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 107, 10.1073/pnas.1007973107 (2010).

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