The Evolution of Photosynthesis Better Documented Thanks to the Discovery of the Oldest Thylakoids in Fossil Cyanobacteria
Published:13 Mar.2024    Source:University of Liège

Researchers at the University of Liège (ULiège) have identified microstructures in fossil cells that are 1.75 billion years old. These structures, called thylakoid membranes, are the oldest ever discovered. They push back the fossil record of thylakoids by 1.2 billion years and provide new information on the evolution of cyanobacteria which played a crucial role in the accumulation of oxygen on the early Earth. This major discovery is presented in the journal Nature.


Catherine Demoulin, Yannick Lara, Alexandre Lambion and Emmanuelle Javaux from the Early Life Traces & Evolution laboratory of the Astrobiology Research Unit at ULiège examined enigmatic microfossils called Navifusa majensis (N.majensis) in shales from the McDermott Formation in Australia, which are 1.75 billion years old, and in 1 billion year old formations of DRCongo and arctic Canada. Ultrastructural analyses in fossil cells from 2 formations (Australia, Canada) revealed the presence of internal membranes with an arrangement, fine structure and dimensions permitting to interpret them unambiguously as thylakoid membranes, where oxygenic photosynthesis occurs. These observations permitted to identify N majensis as a fossil cyanobacterium. This discovery puts into perspective the role of cyanobacteria with thylakoid membranes in early Earth oxygenation.