Large colonial organisms with coordinated growth in oxygenated environments 2.1 Gyr ago

Research output: Contribution to journalLetter


The evidence for macroscopic life during the Palaeoproterozoic era (2.5-1.6 Gyr ago) is controversial. Except for the nearly 2-Gyr-old coil-shaped fossil Grypania spiralis, which may have been eukaryotic, evidence for morphological and taxonomic biodiversification of macroorganisms only occurs towards the beginning of the Mesoproterozoic era (1.6-1.0 Gyr). Here we report the discovery of centimetre-sized structures from the 2.1-Gyr-old black shales of the Palaeoproterozoic Francevillian B Formation in Gabon, which we interpret as highly organized and spatially discrete populations of colonial organisms. The structures are up to 12 cm in size and have characteristic shapes, with a simple but distinct ground pattern of flexible sheets and, usually, a permeating radial fabric. Geochemical analyses suggest that the sediments were deposited under an oxygenated water column. Carbon and sulphur isotopic data indicate that the structures were distinct biogenic objects, fossilized by pyritization early in the formation of the rock. The growth patterns deduced from the fossil morphologies suggest that the organisms showed cell-to-cell signalling and coordinated responses, as is commonly associated with multicellular organization. The Gabon fossils, occurring after the 2.45-2.32-Gyr increase in atmospheric oxygen concentration, may be seen as ancient representatives of multicellular life, which expanded so rapidly 1.5 Gyr later, in the Cambrian explosion.


  • Abderrazak El Albani
  • Stefan Bengtson
  • Donald E Canfield
  • Andrey Bekker
  • Roberto Macchiarelli
  • Arnaud Mazurier
  • Philippe Boulvais
  • Jean-Jacques Dupuy
  • Claude Fontaine
  • Franz T Fürsich
  • François Gauthier-Lafaye
  • Philippe Janvier
  • Emmanuelle Javaux
  • Frantz Ossa Ossa
  • Anne-Catherine Pierson-Wickmann
  • Armelle Riboulleau
  • Paul Sardini
  • Daniel Vachard
  • Martin Whitehouse
  • Alain Meunier
External organisations
  • Poitiers University
  • University of Southern Denmark
  • Stockholm University
  • Swedish Museum of Natural History
Research areas and keywords


  • Bacteria, Ecosystem, Eukaryota, Fossils, Gabon, Geologic Sediments, History, Ancient, Oxygen, Historical Article, Journal Article, Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)100-4
Number of pages5
Issue number7302
Publication statusPublished - 2010 Jul 1
Publication categoryResearch
Externally publishedYes