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Open Access Research article

Double fossilization in eukaryotic microorganisms from Lower Cretaceous amber

Ana Martín-González1*, Jacek Wierzchos2, Juan-Carlos Gutiérrez1, Jesús Alonso3 and Carmen Ascaso2

Author Affiliations

1 Departamento de Microbiología-III, Facultad de Biología, Universidad Complutense, 28040-Madrid, Spain

2 Centro de Ciencias Medioambientales, CSIC, Serrano 115 bis, 28006-Madrid, Spain

3 Museo de Ciencias Naturales de Álava, c/Siervas de Jesús 24, Victoria-Gasteiz, Spain

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BMC Biology 2009, 7:9  doi:10.1186/1741-7007-7-9

Published: 20 February 2009

Abstract

Background

Microfossils are not only useful for elucidating biological macro- and microevolution but also the biogeochemical history of our planet. Pyritization is the most important and extensive mode of preservation of animals and especially of plants. Entrapping in amber, a fossilized resin, is considered an alternative mode of biological preservation. For the first time, the internal organization of 114-million-year-old microfossils entrapped in Lower Cretaceous amber is described and analyzed, using adapted scanning electron microscopy in backscattered electron mode in association with energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy microanalysis. Double fossilization of several protists included in diverse taxonomical groups and some vegetal debris is described and analyzed.

Results

In protists without an exoskeleton or shell (ciliates, naked amoebae, flagellates), determinate structures, including the nuclei, surface envelopes (cortex or cytoplasmic membrane) and hyaloplasm are the main sites of pyritization. In protists with a biomineralized skeleton (diatoms), silicon was replaced by pyrite. Permineralization was the main mode of pyritization. Framboidal, subhedral and microcrystalline are the predominant pyrite textures detected in the cells. Abundant pyritized vegetal debris have also been found inside the amber nuggets and the surrounding sediments. This vegetal debris usually contained numerous pyrite framboids and very densely packed polycrystalline pyrite formations infilled with different elements of the secondary xylem.

Conclusion

Embedding in amber and pyritization are not always alternative modes of biological preservation during geological times, but double fossilization is possible under certain environmental conditions. Pyritization in protists shows a quite different pattern with regard to plants, due to the different composition and cellular architecture in these microorganisms and organisms. Anaerobic sulphate-reducing bacteria could play a crucial role in this microbial fossilization.