Molecular phylogeny and biogeochemistry indicate that eukaryotes differentiated early in Earth history. Sequence comparisons of small-subunit ribosomal RNA genes suggest a deep evolutionary divergence of Eukarya and Archaea; C27-C29 steranes (derived from sterols synthesized by eukaryotes) and strong depletion of 13C (a biogeochemical signature of methanogenic Archaea) in 2,700Myr old kerogens independently place a minimum age on this split. Steranes, large spheroidal microfossils, and rare macrofossils of possible eukaryotic origin occur in Palaeoproterozoic rocks. Until now, however, evidence for morphological and taxonomic diversification within the domain has generally been restricted to very late Mesoproterozoic and Neoproterozoic successions. Here we show that the cytoskeletal and ecological prerequisites for eukaryotic diversification were already established in eukaryotic microorganisms fossilized nearly 1,500Myr ago in shales of the early Mesoproterozoic Roper Group in northern Australia.
- Pub Date:
- July 2001