Research ArticlePALEONTOLOGY

Phylogenetic and physiological signals in metazoan fossil biomolecules

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science Advances  10 Jul 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 28, eaba6883
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aba6883


Proteins, lipids, and sugars establish animal form and function. However, the preservation of biological signals in fossil organic matter is poorly understood. Here, we used high-resolution in situ Raman microspectroscopy to analyze the molecular compositions of 113 Phanerozoic metazoan fossils and sediments. Proteins, lipids, and sugars converge in composition during fossilization through lipoxidation and glycoxidation to form endogenous N-, O-, and S-heterocyclic polymers. Nonetheless, multivariate spectral analysis reveals molecular heterogeneities: The relative abundance of glycoxidation and lipoxidation products distinguishes different tissue types. Preserved chelating ligands are diagnostic of different modes of biomineralization. Amino acid–specific fossilization products retain phylogenetic information and capture higher-rank metazoan relationships. Molecular signals survive in deep time and provide a powerful tool for reconstructing the evolutionary history of animals.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

View Full Text

Stay Connected to Science Advances