Although the geological record indicates that eukaryotes evolved by 1.9–1.4 Ga, their early evolution is poorly resolved taxonomically and chronologically. The fossil red alga Bangiomorpha pubescens is the only recognized crown-group eukaryote older than ca. 0.8 Ga and marks the earliest known expression of extant forms of multicellularity and eukaryotic photosynthesis. Because it postdates the divergence between the red and green algae and the prior endosymbiotic event that gave rise to the chloroplast, B. pubescens is uniquely important for calibrating eukaryotic evolution. However, molecular clock estimates for the divergence between the red and green algae are highly variable, and some analyses estimate this split to be younger than the widely inferred but poorly constrained first appearance age of 1.2 Ga for B. pubescens. As a result, many molecular clock studies reject this fossil ex post facto. Here we present new Re-Os isotopic ages from sedimentary rocks that stratigraphically bracket the occurrence of B. pubescens in the Bylot Supergroup of Baffin Island and revise its first appearance to 1.047 +0.013/–0.017 Ga. This date is 150 m.y. younger than commonly held interpretations and permits more precise estimates of early eukaryotic evolution. Using cross-calibrated molecular clock analyses with the new fossil age, we calculate that photosynthesis within the Eukarya emerged ca. 1.25 Ga. This date for primary plastid endosymbiosis serves as a benchmark for interpreting the fossil record of early eukaryotes and evaluating their role in the Proterozoic biosphere.

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