The oldest known dinoflagellates: Morphological and molecular evidence from Mesoproterozoic rocks at Yongji, Shanxi Province


Abundant and well-preserved organic-walled microfossils including acanthomorphic acritarchs have been found in Mesoproterozoic Beidajian Formation in the Yongji area of Shanxi Province, North China. The morphological and ultrastructural features of these acanthomorphic acritarchs resemble living dinoflagellates (e.g. double-walled and polygonal structures), which leads to the interpretation of these fossils as probably the oldest dinoflagellates. The detection of dinosterane, a dinoflagellate biomarker, from pyrolytic product of these fossils further supports the morphological inference. This finding is consistent with molecular clock estimate that dinoflagellates may have diverged 700 to 900 million years (Ma) before previously known fossil record.

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Correspondence to Xunlai Yuan.

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Meng, F., Zhou, C., Yin, L. et al. The oldest known dinoflagellates: Morphological and molecular evidence from Mesoproterozoic rocks at Yongji, Shanxi Province. Chin.Sci.Bull. 50, 1230–1234 (2005).

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  • Mesoproterozoic
  • Beidajian Formation
  • acanthomorphic acritarch
  • dinoflagellate
  • dinosterane