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Ancient creature fossilized by the bacteria that ate it

DENVER -- High in the mountains of Antarctica, Ohio State University geologists unearthed the fossil remains of a 180-million-year-old clam-like creature that was preserved in a very unusual way: by the ancient bacteria that devoured it.

And only yards away, they found the first fossil evidence of a completely different kind of bacteria that scientists were unsure even existed as fossils that long ago.

The first find answers one of the most fundamental questions in paleontology -- why some creatures fossilize even though they lack the mineral-rich bones, teeth, or shells that are normally required for the process.

The second find corroborates other evidence that a particular type of bacteria has a very ancient history on Earth.

Loren Babcock, professor of geological sciences at Ohio State, and his colleagues used a scanning electron microscope to examine fossils of tiny arthropods they collected from Antarctica, and discovered that the arthropod fossils were actually composed of clumps of even tinier bacteria fossils.

The scientists suspect that the bacteria feasted on the dead arthropods, then absorbed minerals from their surroundings and turned to quartz, preserving perfectly the shape and texture of the arthropods.

In essence, the bacteria self-fossilized, and replicated the body of the animal, Babcock said.

They also examined limestone deposits they found nearby, and identified fossils of a different kind of bacteria called archaebacteria. Genetic studies of modern archaebacteria have suggested that this group has existed for billions of years. But fossil remains of archaebacteria have rarely been found, and never been found as fossils in Antarctica, until now.

The geologists presented their results Wednesday at the Geological Society of America meeting in Denver.

Babcocks longtime goal has been to understand a phenomenon called exceptional preservation, i
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Contact: Loren Babcock
Babcock.5@osu.edu
614-292-0358
Ohio State University
10-Nov-2004


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