Williams Professor's Research Published in Two Journals

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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Phoebe Cohen, assistant professor of geosciences at Williams College, has published her most recent research that dates shell-making in fossils to a time 200 million years earlier than originally thought.

The research was published this week in Science Advances. Additionally, Cohen's research with Spencer Irvine, Class of 2016, on vase-shaped microfossils (VSMs) was published this week in the journal Palaeontology.

In Science Advances, Cohen details her research into fossilized eukaryotes, which are complex life-forms that include plants and animals but also a wide diversity of single-celled organisms. These single-celled eukaryotes were discovered in Canada and show layers of mineral plates. At more than 800 million years old, they represent the oldest evidence of organisms controlling the formation of minerals, known as biomineralization.

These ancient life-forms built their exoskeletons using a different process than modern shell-making eukaryotes, Cohen said, adding this research shows how mineral-making evolved. Previous evidence dated biomineralization to 560 million years ago.

In Palaeontology, Cohen and Irvine, along with Dartmouth College researcher Justin Strauss, take a look at the abundance, taxonomy and taphonomy of VSMs from the Callison Lake Formation in Yukon, Canada.

VSMs, which are interpreted as the remains of testate amoebae, are found in Late Tonian sedimentary rocks around the world. A new assemblage of them recently was described in the Callison Lake Formation in Yukon, Canada. Found in silicified black shale horizons, as well as carbonate rocks, data suggests these VSMs inhabited a lagoonal or shelf interior environment. These microfossils are indicative of early diversification of eukaryotic life.

The team's work also uncovered two new species of VSMs — a long-necked form and an elongate, curved-neck form.

Professor Justin Strauss from Dartmouth first described this set of fossils, and the work by Cohen, Irvine and Strauss carried on the research into them. Irvine wrote his senior thesis about the research, which formed the basis of the paper submitted to Palaeontology.


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