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Publication - Dr John Cunningham

    Distinguishing geology from biology in the Ediacaran Doushantuo biota relaxes constraints on the timing of the origin of bilaterians

    Citation

    Cunningham, JA, Thomas, C-W, Bengtson, S, Kearns, SL, Xiao, S, Marone, F, Stampanoni, M & Donoghue, PCJ, 2012, ‘Distinguishing geology from biology in the Ediacaran Doushantuo biota relaxes constraints on the timing of the origin of bilaterians’. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, vol 279., pp. 2369-2376

    Abstract

    The Ediacaran Doushantuo biota has yielded fossils that include the oldest widely accepted record of the animal evolutionary lineage, as well as specimens with alleged bilaterian affinity. However, these systematic interpretations are contingent on the presence of key biological structures that have been reinterpreted by some workers as artefacts of diagenetic mineralization. On the basis of chemistry and crystallographic fabric, we characterize and discriminate phases of mineralization that reflect: (i) replication of original biological structure, and (ii) void-filling diagenetic mineralization. The results indicate that all fossils from the Doushantuo assemblage preserve a complex melange of mineral phases, even where subcellular anatomy appears to be preserved. The findings allow these phases to be distinguished in more controversial fossils, facilitating a critical re-evaluation of the Doushantuo fossil assemblage and its implications as an archive of Ediacaran animal diversity. We find that putative subcellular structures exhibit fabrics consistent with preservation of original morphology. Cells in later developmental stages are not in original configuration and are therefore uninformative concerning gastrulation. Key structures used to identify Doushantuo bilaterians can be dismissed as late diagenetic artefacts. Therefore, when diagenetic mineralization is considered, there is no convincing evidence for bilaterians in the Doushantuo assemblage.

    Full details in the University publications repository