Distinctive microfossil supports early Paleoproterozoic rise in complex cellular organisation

Erica V. Barlow, Christopher H. House, Ming Chang Liu, Maxwell T. Wetherington, Martin J. Van Kranendonk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The great oxidation event (GOE), ~2.4 billion years ago, caused fundamental changes to the chemistry of Earth's surface environments. However, the effect of these changes on the biosphere is unknown, due to a worldwide lack of well-preserved fossils from this time. Here, we investigate exceptionally preserved, large spherical aggregate (SA) microfossils permineralised in chert from the c. 2.4 Ga Turee Creek Group in Western Australia. Field and petrographic observations, Raman spectroscopic mapping, and in situ carbon isotopic analyses uncover insights into the morphology, habitat, reproduction and metabolism of this unusual form, whose distinctive, SA morphology has no known counterpart in the fossil record. Comparative analysis with microfossils from before the GOE reveals the large SA microfossils represent a step-up in cellular organisation. Morphological comparison to extant micro-organisms indicates the SAs have more in common with coenobial algae than coccoidal bacteria, emphasising the complexity of this microfossil form. The remarkable preservation here provides a unique window into the biosphere, revealing an increase in the complexity of life coinciding with the GOE.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere12576
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences

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