Research ArticlePALEONTOLOGY

Phylogenetic and physiological signals in metazoan fossil biomolecules

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

Abstract

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.

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