Deciphering the biomineralization of Palaeozoic corals through their fossils

The importance of biomineralization studies in fossils can help to understand the evolutionary origin of metazoans through the Phanerozoic (through a comparative study of fossil and Recent organisms). The phylum Cnidaria is represented in the geological record mainly by the stony corals. This informal grouping is usually taken to mean the skeletonized members of Anthozoa class (Tabulata, Rugosa, Scleractinia and Octocorallia, among others). The knowledge about their evolution in terms of biomineralization pathways is unresolved. The goal of this study is to advance our understanding about biocrystallization processes of the main groups of Anthozoa from a biomineralogical approach, studying the main similarities and differences between these groups at structural, crystallographic and chemical level (searching common biomineralization patterns and strategies of growth).

This project is in collaboration with Prof. Dr. Sergio Rodríguez from Complutense University of Madrid (Spain) and Prof. Dr. Alberto Pérez-Huerta Project from University of Alabama (USA). This research project (CGL2016-78738-P) is supported through the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (Spanish) and Research and by the Complutense University Research Group (910231).

Application of biomineralization studies to solving palaeontological problems related with tabulate corals

Some organisms described as tabulate corals (Tabulate, Anthozoa) have been controversial by palaeontologists for their unclear diagnostic characters. Fortunately biogenic properties of ancient organisms can be preserved in the fossil record and helps to solve palaeobiological problems. The goal of this project is to resolve the systematic affinities these uncertain organisms by the study of the biogenic properties of their skeletons. The genera under study are Syringoalcyon and Cladochonus.

This project is in collaboration with Prof. Dr. Sergio Rodríguez from Complutense University of Madrid (Spain), Prof. Dr. Esperanza Fernández – Martínez from University of León (Spain) and Prof. Dr. Francis Tourneur University of Liege (Belgium). This research project (CGL2016-78738-P) is supported through the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (Spanish) and Research and by the Complutense University Research Group (910231).

On the study of crystallographic and geochemical properties of Recent scleractinians and molluscs derived from stressful marine environments

Currently, Earth pass through a period of rapid climatic warming, impacting the major biomes of the planet (IPCC 2007). Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, atmospheric levels of CO2 have risen by approximately 40% (Honisch et al. 2009), as a result of the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, and this rise in atmospheric CO2 has been implicated as the primary factor behind global warming. At the same time, rising atmospheric CO2 has also led to greater CO2 uptake by the oceans, and ocean acidification (OA). It has been estimated that between the mid 1700’s and 2000, surface ocean pH has decreased from approximately 8.25 to 8.14, representing approximately a 30% increase in the concentration of hydrogen ions [H+]. If present trends in anthropogenic CO2 emission continue into the future, the ocean environment will be characterized not only by elevated dissolved CO2 and decreased pH but, critically, a decreased saturation with respect to calcium carbonate (CaCO3), a compound widely used by marine organisms for construction of their shells and skeletons (Raven et al. 2005).

The goal of this project is to evaluate whether and to what degree physicochemical (especially water column geochemistry) or physiological processes affect the structure, mineralogy and geochemistry of marine organisms skeletons and marine sediments.

This research project (CGL2016-78738-P) is supported through the task WP3 of POLNOR project The Changing Ocean of the Polar North within the framework of Polish-Norwegian Research Cooperation. The WP3 task is led by Prof. Dr. Jarosław Stolarski (Institute of Paleobiology, Polish Academy of Science).

Applying LIBS on the study of Recent cold-water corals: palaeothermometry and seasonality

Cold-water corals are promising archives of palaeoclimatic and palaeoenvironmetal information for high latitude seas history, offering continuous high resolution archives (an individual could live hundreds to thousands of years). Cold-water corals are remarkably sensitive to variations in global climate, but unfortunately their complex growth modes require special sampling strategies and analytical techniques.

Laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) offers new perspectives on this matter. Recent studies have revealed the LIBS as a robust and comprehensive technique on geochemical studies applied in Earth Sciences. The current project is focused in the analysis of metal/Ca ratio by LIBS as proxy of seawater temperature and seasonality in cold-water corals (Dendrophyllia ramea, Dendrophyllia cornigera and Cladocora caespitosa) of Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean.

This project is in collaboration with in collaboration with the Chemical Laser Group from Universidad Complutense (Spain): Prof. Dr. Jorge Cáceres from Complutense University of Madrid (Spain) and Dr. Samuel Moncayo from Hospital Universitario Ramón y Cajal (Spain).

On the study of primary biomineral features preserved in cuticles of trilobites

Comprehensive biomineralization studies in palaeontology can help to interpret palaeobiological uncertainties, such as unknown systematic affinities; tailored structures; evolutionary biomineralization, due to the biogenic crystallo-chemical properties of ancient skeletons and shells can be preserved in the fossil record, when diagenetic processes have not obliterated the original attributes. In the case of controlled biominerals the organisms (e.g. brachiopods, cnidarian, molluscs or arthropods) directly exert an extensive control about biocrystallization that is reflected in its crystallographic arrangement. The assessment of this organisation provides information about the relationships between diverse elements (at micro- and macroscale), processes of growth, and the architectural responses to eco-phenotypical variations. Elucidating the distinctive properties of biominerals is a paramount task previous to understanding of the significance of these structures in a palaeontological context.

The current study aims to analyse the microstructural and crystallographic features of trilobite cuticles with the purpose to establish the variations between different taxa and different life habits and their possible biocrystallization similarities with other arthropods.

This project is in collaboration with the Dr. Jorge Esteve from Complutense University of Madrid. This research project is supported through the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (Spanish) and Research with the grants CGL2013-48877P and CGL2016-78738-P and by the Complutense University Research Group (910231).

Assessment of organics in the control of crystallographic properties in otoliths

A fascinating example of biomineral structures are otoliths which are inorganic elements of gravity receptors in fish that are responsible for maintaining orientation in space and receiving sound waves. The otoliths morphologically resemble inorganic crystals of calcium carbonate, but their shape, size and crystalline form (i.e., polymorphic form) are affected by a specific type of regulatory proteins, called intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs).

Fish otoliths are found in a fossil record at least since the Devonian (approx. 380 million years ago), which demonstrates deep evolutionary roots of this kind of biomineralization. However, no studies have been performed so far to elucidate the effect of IDPs on the formation of these biominerals (biomineralization proteins have been also found in fossil molluscs and corals).

In the proposed project, we are going to confirm the hypothesis that the properties of the biomineralization proteins reveal a considerable effect on mineralogy, crystallography and several geochemical features of fish otoliths at all levels of structural organization.

The project NCN 2015/19/B/ST10/02148 led by Prof. Dr. Jarosław Stolarski (Institute of Paleobiology, Polish Academy of Science) and supported through the Nacional Science Centre (Poland).