Laser-Raman and atomic force microscopy assessment of the chlorococcalean affinity of problematic microfossils

28 Mar 2012

Organic-walled microfossils of uncertain origin, classified to an informal group named acritarchs, are most commonly interpreted as the resting cysts of marine eukaryotic phytoplankton. Some acritarchs have recently been interpreted as vegetative cells of chlorococcalean green algae, based on internal bodies that have been interpreted as their asexual reproductive structures (spores). To verify this interpretation, we applied confocal Raman spectroscopy and atomic force microscopy (AFM) to study the ultrastructure and nanostructure of exceptionally preserved acritarchs with internal bodies from the early Silurian cherts (c. 430 Ma-old) of Frankenwald (Germany). Three-dimensional Raman mapping showed the spatial distribution of carbonaceous material and other minerals in the walls of the analysed internal bodies and confirmed that these structures are comparable with spores of chlorococcalean microalgae. Our findings document therefore the oldest thus far known vegetative cells of sporulating green algae. The combination of confocal Raman and AFM techniques yielded detailed information about the nanostructure and fossilisation mode of the mineralised organic walls of both the central vesicles and the enclosed spore-like bodies.