February 18, 2013

Ancient Fossilized Sea Creatures Yield Oldest Biomolecules Isolated Directly from a Fossil

Though scientists have long believed that complex organic molecules couldn’t survive fossilization, some 350-million-year-old remains of aquatic sea creatures uncovered in Ohio, Indiana, and Iowa have challenged that assumption.

The spindly animals with feathery arms—called crinoids, but better known today by the plant-like name “sea lily”—appear to have been buried alive in storms during the Carboniferous Period, when North America was covered with vast inland seas. Buried quickly and isolated from the water above by layers of fine-grained sediment, their porous skeletons gradually filled with minerals, but some of the pores containing organic molecules were sealed intact.