Precambrian algae helped describe the evolution of the first plants

(ORDO NEWS) — Paleontologists have discovered a new species of single-celled multinucleated algae Protocodium sinense, which is more than half a billion years old.

The specimen is exceptionally well-preserved, making it possible to accurately describe its three-dimensional structure and systematic position, and thereby complete the evolutionary history of the plant kingdom.

The Ediacaran period ended 541 million years ago and marked the change of two eras. It ended with the Proterozoic, an exceptionally long era in the history of the Earth, which was then inhabited by microbes and bizarre organisms, unlike any subsequent population of the planet.

The Proterozoic era was replaced by the Paleozoic era, and life acquired a more modern, recognizable look.

We still know little and understand even less what kind of creatures inhabited the Ediacaran Earth and how they relate to later life. However, now paleontologists are increasingly finding something recognizable in the sediments of that time.

Thus, the authors of a new publication in BMC Biology discovered in southern China in a 541-million-year-old rock (belongs to the Dengying Formation) an algae fossil, which they called Protocodium sinense , a representative of the first described species and a new genus.

This is the first time that such an ancient green algae (Chlorophyta division) has been found in such a good state of preservation.

Using electron and X-ray microscopy, scientists were even able to recreate its three-dimensional structure: it was one giant cell with many nuclei – such a structure is due to the fact that after division, the daughter cells did not separate from each other. Even individual intertwined tubules are visible in the center of the fossil.

Precambrian algae helped describe the evolution of the first plants 2
Images of Protocodium sinense obtained using A) electron microscopy; BD) x-ray tomography

“Protocodium belongs to the previously known group of green algae and has an unexpectedly modern device.

This means that the diversity of these algae arose in the process of evolution even before the end of the Ediacaran period, said one of the authors of the article, Cédric Aria from Canada.

“This discovery sheds light on the origin of the entire plant kingdom and allows us to give a familiar name to an organism that lived before the Cambrian explosion, more than half a billion years ago, when the first modern-type ecosystems were just emerging.”

The fact is that “Protocodium” in translation means “primary codium” – this emphasizes both the similarity and kinship of an unusually ancient algae with the modern genus Codium from the class Ulvofitsya . Such algae are still easy to find in many seas.

Although fossilized green algae have been found before (scientists are sure that they are up to one billion years old), it was possible for the first time to determine their exact structure and systematic affiliation.

Since the find is a relative of the green algae from which all land plants originated, it also helped to understand their origin.

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