Spiculogenesis and biomineralization in early sponge animals
Muscente, A. D.
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Most sponges have biomineralized spicules. Molecular clocks indicate sponge classes diverged in the Cryogenian, but the oldest spicules are Cambrian in age. Therefore, sponges either evolved spiculogenesis long after their divergences or Precambrian spicules were not amenable to fossilization. The former hypothesis predicts independent origins of spicules among sponge classes and presence of transitional forms with weakly biomineralized spicules, but this prediction has not been tested using paleontological data. Here, we report an early Cambrian sponge that, like several other early Paleozoic sponges, had weakly biomineralized and hexactine-based siliceous spicules with large axial filaments and high organic proportions. This material, along with Ediacaran microfossils containing putative non-biomineralized axial filaments, suggests that Precambrian sponges may have had weakly biomineralized spicules or lacked them altogether, hence their poor record. This work provides a new search image for Precambrian sponge fossils, which are critical to resolving the origin of sponge spiculogenesis and biomineralization.