GraĹĽyna Mierzejewska and Piotr Mierzejewski

Acta Medica Polona 1979, 20, 1, 33-34
Graptolite Net |  Graptolites and Graptoliters  |  Evolution of Graptolites  |  Scolecodonts  |  Organic Microfossils
Organic skeletons of Palaeozoic marine invertebrates have been studied for several years with
the methods of electron microscopy. In the past the structural material of
Graptolithina, jaws of Polychaeta and other organic microfossils was regarded to be chitin.
Ultrastructural studies have not shown any traces of chitin-protein complexes in all studied
microfossils, although chitin is the most abundant organic skeletal component of invertebrates.
In the present note the first though slightly doubtful finding of chitin-protein complex in the
periderm of an organic microfossil is described.

Material and methods. - The material under study consists of fragments of Ascosyrinx
Kozłowski, 1967 [now classified as the scyphozoan Byronia robusta (Kozlowski)],
an enigmatic microfossil known from the erratic Ordovician boulders of Poland. This fossil
was etched from the limestone with 10% acetic acid and embedded in Epon 812. Sections
were cut with the diamond knife on a Tesla microtome and examined under a Tesla
transmission electron microscope. Supplementary studies have been performed using scanning
electron microscope Stereoscan 180.
Results and discussion. - SEM studies on the fine structure show that periderm of A. robustus
is constructed of numerous layers. TEM sudies confirm these observations and show that each
layer is composed of arcuate fibrils (Fig. 1, x 23300). The fibrils are made of electron dense
substance. The matrix surrounding fiblis is made of electron lucent material and is essentially
homogenous. The presence of layers with arcuate fibrils forms specific ultrastructure usually
defined as parabolic patterns. The fine structure of this type is typical for periderm of
scyphopolips and the cuticle of Arthropoda, i.e. skeletons composed of chitin-protein
complexes. According to Bouligand's model, the parabolic patterns derive from oblique
sectioning of helicoidal supestructure. It is quite likely that the observed fine structure of
robustus periderm represents also a chitin-protein complex. The best technique for revealing
the parabolic patterns of chitin-protein complexes in thin sections is to stain the surrounding
matrix with potassium permanganate and lead citrate (negative contrast of Neville and Luke,
1969). The parabolic patterns are well visible in thin sections of
A. robustus without staining.
The staining with the mentioned above method has been completely ineefective in this case.
These facts suggest a deep degradation of chemical composition of
A. robustus periderm as
well as "self-staining" and "selffixation" of fine structure during the process of fossilization. The
"self-staining" is positive in character in contradictinction to the negative contrast of Neville and
  It must be remembered that ultrastructure if form paraboli patterns is quite common in
animals. Similar parabolic patterns can be formed by chitin-protein complexes, proteins-
cholesteric liquid crystals, tunicin fibrils as well as chromosomal DNA. For this reason the
problem of chemical composition of
A. robustus periderm requires palaeobiochemical studies.
Nonetheless, we suppose that the presence of a chitin-protein complex in the studied
microfossil is convincing, The application of a highly specific, accurate and quantative
enzymatic method of Jeuniaux (1963) might resolve this problem finally.

Jeuniaux C.: Chitine et chitinolyse, Masson, Paris, 1963.
Neville A.C., Luke B.M.: Molecular architecture of adult locust cuticle at the electron microscope level.
and Cell
1, 355-356, 1969.
is edited by

Piotr Mierzejewski, the Count of Calmont and Countess Maja A. Korwin-Kossakowska