SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

ABSTRACT

Cyanobacteria in terrestrial and aquatic habitats are frequently associated with heterotrophic bacteria, and such associations are most often metabolically interactive. Functionally, the members of such bacterial–cyanobacterial consortia benefit from diverse metabolic capabilities of their associates, thus exceeding the sum of their parts. Such associations may have been just as ubiquitous in the past, but the fossil record has not produced any direct evidence for such associations to date. In this paper, we document fossil bacteria associated with a macrophytic cyanobacterial mat in the early Silurian (Llandovery) Massanutten Sandstone of Virginia, USA. Both the bacterial and the cyanobacterial cells are preserved by mineral replacement (pyrite subsequently replaced by iron oxyhydroxides) within an amorphous carbonaceous matrix which represents the common exopolysaccharide investment of the cyanobacterial colony. The bacteria are rod-shaped, over 370 nm long and 100 nm in diameter, and occur both as isolated cells and as short filaments. This occurrence represents the oldest fossil evidence for bacterial–cyanobacterial associations, documenting that such consortia were present 440 Ma ago, and revealing the potential for them to be recognized deeper in the fossil record.