PALEOBIOLOGY

Microbes driving the time machine

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Science  09 Jan 2015:
Vol. 347, Issue 6218, pp. 142-143
DOI: 10.1126/science.347.6218.142-f

Preservation of the tissues of Earth's earliest animals—those that were present before and during the Cambrian explosion—required a lot of luck. According to new isotope data from Conotubus hemiannulatus fossils from Shaanxi Province, China, that luck was a function mostly of microbial activity. Schiffbauer et al. show that decaying carbon-rich animals are preserved typically either by being replaced three-dimensionally by pyrite crystals or compressed as carbonaceous films. Sedimentation rate ultimately controlled whether and for how long animal tissues were exposed to zones of bacterial sulfate reduction or methanogenesis within the sediment and thus their preservational style.

Nat. Commun. 10.1038/ncomms6754 (2014).

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