Tiny sea anemone from the Lower Cambrian of China.
ABSTRACT: BACKGROUND: Abundant fossils from the Ediacaran and Cambrian showing cnidarian grade grossly suggest that cnidarian diversification occurred earlier than that of other eumetazoans. However, fossils of possible soft-bodied polyps are scanty and modern corals are dated back only to the Middle Triassic, although molecular phylogenetic results support the idea that anthozoans represent the first major branch of the Cnidaria. Because of difficulties in taxonomic assignments owing to imperfect preservation of fossil cnidarian candidates, little is known about forms ancestral to those of living groups. METHODS AND FINDINGS: We have analyzed the soft-bodied polypoid microfossils Eolympia pediculata gen. et sp. nov. from the lowest Cambrian Kuanchuanpu Formation in southern China by scanning electron microscopy and computer-aided microtomography after isolating fossils from sedimentary rocks by acetic acid maceration. The fossils, about a half mm in body size, are preserved with 18 mesenteries including directives bilaterally arranged, 18 tentacles and a stalk-like pedicle. The pedicle suggests a sexual life cycle, while asexual reproduction by transverse fission also is inferred by circumferential grooves on the body column. CONCLUSIONS: The features found in the present fossils fall within the morphological spectrum of modern Hexacorallia excluding Ceriantharia, and thus Eolympia pediculata could be a stem member for this group. The fossils also demonstrate that basic features characterizing modern hexacorallians such as bilateral symmetry and the reproductive system have deep roots in the Early Cambrian.
Project description:Sequences and structural attributes of mitochondrial genomes have played a critical role in the clarification of relationships among Cnidaria, a key phylum of early-diverging animals. Among the major lineages of Cnidaria, Ceriantharia ("tube anemones") remains one of the most enigmatic in terms of its phylogenetic position. We sequenced the mitochondrial genomes of two ceriantharians to see whether the complete organellar genome would provide more support for the phylogenetic placement of Ceriantharia. For both Isarachnanthus nocturnus and Pachycerianthus magnus, the mitochondrial gene sequences could not be assembled into a single circular genome. Instead, our analyses suggest that both species have mitochondrial genomes consisting of multiple linear fragments. Linear mitogenomes are characteristic of members of Medusozoa, one of the major lineages of Cnidaria, but are unreported for Anthozoa, which includes the Ceriantharia. The inferred number of fragments and variation in gene order between species is much greater within Ceriantharia than among the lineages of Medusozoa. We identify origins of replication for each of the five putative chromosomes of the Isarachnanthus nocturnus mitogenome and for each of the eight putative chromosomes of the Pachycerianthus magnus mitogenome. At 80,923?bp, I. nocturnus now holds the record for the largest animal mitochondrial genome reported to date. The novelty of the mitogenomic structure in Ceriantharia highlights the distinctiveness of this lineage but, because it appears to be both unique to and diverse within Ceriantharia, it is uninformative about the phylogenetic position of Ceriantharia relative to other Anthozoa. The presence of tRNAMet and tRNATrp in both ceriantharian mitogenomes supports a closer relationship between Ceriantharia and Hexacorallia than between Ceriantharia and any other cnidarian lineage, but phylogenetic analysis of the genes contained in the mitogenomes suggests that Ceriantharia is sister to a clade containing Octocorallia?+?Hexacorallia indicating a possible suppression of tRNATrp in Octocorallia.
Project description:<h4>Background</h4>Extant cubozoans are voracious predators characterized by their square shape, four evenly spaced outstretched tentacles and well-developed eyes. A few cubozoan fossils are known from the Middle Cambrian Marjum Formation of Utah and the well-known Carboniferous Mazon Creek Formation of Illinois. Undisputed cubozoan fossils were previously unknown from the early Cambrian; by that time probably all representatives of the living marine phyla, especially those of basal animals, should have evolved.<h4>Methods</h4>Microscopic fossils were recovered from a phosphatic limestone in the Lower Cambrian Kuanchuanpu Formation of South China using traditional acetic-acid maceration. Seven of the pre-hatched pentamerous cubozoan embryos, each of which bears five pairs of subumbrellar tentacle buds, were analyzed in detail through computed microtomography (Micro-CT) and scanning electron microscopy (SEM) without coating.<h4>Results</h4>The figured microscopic fossils are unequivocal pre-hatching embryos based on their spherical fertilization envelope and the enclosed soft-tissue that has preserved key anatomical features arranged in perfect pentaradial symmetry, allowing detailed comparison with modern cnidarians, especially medusozoans. A combination of features, such as the claustrum, gonad-lamella, suspensorium and velarium suspended by the frenula, occur exclusively in the gastrovascular system of extant cubozoans, indicating a cubozoan affinity for these fossils. Additionally, the interior anatomy of these embryonic cubozoan fossils unprecedentedly exhibits the development of many new septum-derived lamellae and well-partitioned gastric pockets unknown in living cubozoans, implying that ancestral cubozoans had already evolved highly specialized structures displaying unexpected complexity at the dawn of the Cambrian. The well-developed endodermic lamellae and gastric pockets developed in the late embryonic stages of these cubozoan fossils are comparable with extant pelagic juvenile cubomedusae rather than sessile cubopolyps, whcih indicates a direct development in these fossil taxa, lacking characteristic stages of a typical cnidarian metagenesis such as planktonic planula and sessile polyps.
Project description:Molecular and morphological evidence unite the hemichordates and echinoderms as the Ambulacraria, but their earliest history remains almost entirely conjectural. This is on account of the morphological disparity of the ambulacrarians and a paucity of obvious stem-groups. We describe here a new taxon Herpetogaster collinsi gen. et sp. nov. from the Burgess Shale (Middle Cambrian) Lagerstätte. This soft-bodied vermiform animal has a pair of elongate dendritic oral tentacles, a flexible stolon with an attachment disc, and a re-curved trunk with at least 13 segments that is directed dextrally. A differentiated but un-looped gut is enclosed in a sac suspended by mesenteries. It consists of a short pharynx, a conspicuous lenticular stomach, followed by a narrow intestine sub-equal in length. This new taxon, together with the Lower Cambrian Phlogites and more intriguingly the hitherto enigmatic discoidal eldoniids (Cambrian-Devonian), form a distinctive clade (herein the cambroernids). Although one hypothesis of their relationships would look to the lophotrochozoans (specifically the entoprocts), we suggest that the evidence is more consistent with their being primitive deuterostomes, with specific comparisons being made to the pterobranch hemichordates and pre-radial echinoderms. On this basis some of the earliest ambulacrarians are interpreted as soft-bodied animals with a muscular stalk, and possessing prominent tentacles.
Project description:The trace fossil record implies that large worm-like animals were in place along with the skeletonizing organisms during the initial stage of the Cambrian explosion. Body fossils of large worms, however, have so far not been found. Here, we describe a large, soft-bodied, worm-like organism, Vittatusivermis annularius gen. et sp. nov. from the lowest Cambrian of South China, which is constrained to the Fortunian Age (541-529?Ma) of the Cambrian Period. The elongate body of Vittatusivermis was large enough to have supported organ systems and a fluid skeleton that facilitated peristaltic locomotion, thus allowing for more complex patterns of movement than those of flatworms. Its occurrence on the same bedding surface as trace fossils suggests that Vittatusivermis might have produced epichnial trails and shallow burrows on and within sediments. Therefore, Vittatusivermis is likely to have been one of the long expected producers of trace fossils in the earliest Cambrian.
Project description:Molecular clock analyses estimate that crown-group animals began diversifying hundreds of millions of years before the start of the Cambrian period. However, the fossil record has not yielded unequivocal evidence for animals during this interval. Some of the most promising candidates for Precambrian animals occur in the Weng'an biota of South China, including a suite of tubular fossils assigned to Sinocyclocyclicus, Ramitubus, Crassitubus and Quadratitubus, that have been interpreted as soft-bodied eumetazoans comparable to tabulate corals. Here, we present new insights into the anatomy, original composition and phylogenetic affinities of these taxa based on data from synchrotron radiation X-ray tomographic microscopy, ptychographic nanotomography, scanning electron microscopy and electron probe microanalysis. The patterns of deformation observed suggest that the cross walls of Sinocyclocyclicus and Quadratitubus were more rigid than those of Ramitubus and Crassitubus. Ramitubus and Crassitubus specimens preserve enigmatic cellular clusters at terminal positions in the tubes. Specimens of Sinocyclocyclicus and Ramitubus have biological features that might be cellular tissue or subcellular structures filling the spaces between the cross walls. These observations are incompatible with a cnidarian interpretation, in which the spaces between cross walls are abandoned parts of the former living positions of the polyp. The affinity of the Weng'an tubular fossils may lie within the algae.
Project description:The morphological disparity of lophotrochozoan phyla makes it difficult to predict the morphology of the last common ancestor. Only fossils of stem groups can help discover the morphological transitions that occurred along the roots of these phyla. Here, we describe a tubular fossil Yuganotheca elegans gen. et sp. nov. from the Cambrian (Stage 3) Chengjiang Lagerstätte (Yunnan, China) that exhibits an unusual combination of phoronid, brachiopod and tommotiid (Cambrian problematica) characters, notably a pair of agglutinated valves, enclosing a horseshoe-shaped lophophore, supported by a lower bipartite tubular attachment structure with a long pedicle with coelomic space. The terminal bulb of the pedicle provided anchorage in soft sediment. The discovery has important implications for the early evolution of lophotrochozoans, suggesting rooting of brachiopods into the sessile lophotrochozoans and the origination of their bivalved bauplan preceding the biomineralization of shell valves in crown brachiopods.
Project description:Cnidaria, the sister group to Bilateria, is a highly diverse group of animals in terms of morphology, lifecycles, ecology, and development. How this diversity originated and evolved is not well understood because phylogenetic relationships among major cnidarian lineages are unclear, and recent studies present contrasting phylogenetic hypotheses. Here, we use transcriptome data from 15 newly-sequenced species in combination with 26 publicly available genomes and transcriptomes to assess phylogenetic relationships among major cnidarian lineages. Phylogenetic analyses using different partition schemes and models of molecular evolution, as well as topology tests for alternative phylogenetic relationships, support the monophyly of Medusozoa, Anthozoa, Octocorallia, Hydrozoa, and a clade consisting of Staurozoa, Cubozoa, and Scyphozoa. Support for the monophyly of Hexacorallia is weak due to the equivocal position of Ceriantharia. Taken together, these results further resolve deep cnidarian relationships, largely support traditional phylogenetic views on relationships, and provide a historical framework for studying the evolutionary processes involved in one of the most ancient animal radiations.
Project description:The restricted, exclusively terrestrial distribution of modern Onychophora contrasts strikingly with the rich diversity of onychophoran-like fossils preserved in marine Cambrian Lagerstätten The transition from these early forebears to the modern onychophoran body plan is poorly constrained, in part owing to the absence of fossils preserving details of the soft anatomy. Here, we report muscle tissue in a new early Cambrian (Stage 3) lobopodian, Tritonychus phanerosarkus gen. et sp. nov., preserved in the Orsten fashion by three-dimensional replication in phosphate. This first report of Palaeozoic onychophoran musculature establishes peripheral musculature as a characteristic of the ancestral panarthropod, but documents an unexpected muscular configuration. Phylogenetic analysis reconstructs T. phanerosarkus as one of a few members of the main onychophoran lineage-which was as rare and as cryptic in the Cambrian period as it is today.
Project description:The morphology and affinities of newly discovered disc-shaped, soft-bodied fossils from the early Cambrian (Series 2: Stage 4, Dyeran) Carrara Formation are discussed. These specimens show some similarity to the Ordovician <i>Discophyllum</i> Hall, 1847; traditionally this taxon had been treated as a fossil porpitid. However, recently it has instead been referred to as another clade, the eldonids, which includes the enigmatic <i>Eldonia</i> Walcott, 1911 that was originally described from the Cambrian Burgess Shale. The status of various Proterozoic and Phanerozoic taxa previously referred to porpitids and eldonids is also briefly considered. To help ascertain that the specimens were not dubio- or pseudofossils, elemental mapping using energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDS) was conducted. This, in conjunction with the morphology of the specimens, indicated that the fossils were not hematite, iron sulfide, pyrolusite, or other abiologic mineral precipitates. Instead, their status as biologic structures and thus actual fossils is supported. Enrichment in the element carbon, and also possibly to some extent the elements magnesium and iron, seems to be playing some role in the preservation process.
Project description:Exceptionally preserved fossil biotas of the Burgess Shale and a handful of other similar Cambrian deposits provide rare but critical insights into the early diversification of animals. The extraordinary preservation of labile tissues in these geographically widespread but temporally restricted soft-bodied fossil assemblages has remained enigmatic since Walcott's initial discovery in 1909. Here, we demonstrate the mechanism of Burgess Shale-type preservation using sedimentologic and geochemical data from the Chengjiang, Burgess Shale, and five other principal Burgess Shale-type deposits. Sulfur isotope evidence from sedimentary pyrites reveals that the exquisite fossilization of organic remains as carbonaceous compressions resulted from early inhibition of microbial activity in the sediments by means of oxidant deprivation. Low sulfate concentrations in the global ocean and low-oxygen bottom water conditions at the sites of deposition resulted in reduced oxidant availability. Subsequently, rapid entombment of fossils in fine-grained sediments and early sealing of sediments by pervasive carbonate cements at bed tops restricted oxidant flux into the sediments. A permeability barrier, provided by bed-capping cements that were emplaced at the seafloor, is a feature that is shared among Burgess Shale-type deposits, and resulted from the unusually high alkalinity of Cambrian oceans. Thus, Burgess Shale-type preservation of soft-bodied fossil assemblages worldwide was promoted by unique aspects of early Paleozoic seawater chemistry that strongly impacted sediment diagenesis, providing a fundamentally unique record of the immediate aftermath of the "Cambrian explosion."