Abstract

Light microscope and scanning electron microscope observations on new material of unicellular microfossils Dictyosphaera macroreticulata and Shuiyousphaeridium macroreticulatum, from the Mesoproterozoic Ruyang Group in China, provide insights into the microorganisms’ biological affinity, life cycle and cellular complexity. Gigantosphaeridium fibratum n. gen. et sp., is described and is one of the largest Mesoproterozoic microfossils recorded. Phenotypic characters of vesicle ornamentation and excystment structures, properties of resistance and cell wall structure in Dictyosphaera and Shuiyousphaeridium are all diagnostic of microalgal cysts. The wide size ranges of the various morphotypes indicate growth phases compatible with the development of reproductive cysts. Conspecific biologically, each morphotype represents an asexual (resting cyst) or sexual (zygotic cyst) stage in the life cycle, respectively. We reconstruct this hypothetical life cycle and infer that the organism demonstrates a reproductive strategy of alternation of heteromorphic generations. Similarly in Gigantosphaeridium, a metabolically expensive vesicle with processes suggests its protective role as a zygotic cyst. In combination with all these characters and from the resemblance to extant green algae, we propose the placement of these ancient microorganisms in the stem group of Chloroplastida (Viridiplantae). A cell wall composed of primary and secondary layers in Dictyosphaera and Shuiyouisphaeridium required a high cellular complexity for their synthesis and the presence of an endomembrane system and the Golgi apparatus. The plastid was also present, accepting the organism was photosynthetic. The biota reveals a high degree of morphological and cell structural complexity, and provides an insight into ongoing eukaryotic evolution and the development of complex life cycles with sexual reproduction by 1200 Ma.

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