Microbial Cretaceous Park: Biodiversity of Microbial Fossils Entrapped in Amber

Naturwissenschaften. 2009 May;96(5):551-64. doi: 10.1007/s00114-009-0508-y. Epub 2009 Feb 12.


Microorganisms are the most ancient cells on this planet and they include key phyla for understanding cell evolution and Earth history, but, unfortunately, their microbial records are scarce. Here, we present a critical review of fossilized prokaryotic and eukaryotic microorganisms entrapped in Cretaceous ambers (but not exclusively from this geological period) obtained from deposits worldwide. Microbiota in ambers are rather diverse and include bacteria, fungi, and protists. We comment on the most important microbial records from the last 25 years, although it is not an exhaustive bibliographic compilation. The most frequently reported eukaryotic microfossils are shells of amoebae and protists with a cell wall or a complex cortex. Likewise, diverse dormant stages (palmeloid forms, resting cysts, spores, etc.) are abundant in ambers. Besides, viral and protist pathogens have been identified inside insects entrapped in amber. The situation regarding filamentous bacteria and fungi is quite confusing because in some cases, the same record was identified consecutively as a member of these phylogenetically distant groups. To avoid these identification errors in the future, we propose to apply a more resolute microscopic and analytical method in amber studies. Also, we discuss the most recent findings about ancient DNA repair and bacterial survival in remote substrates, which support the real possibility of ancient DNA amplification and bacterial resuscitation from Cretaceous resins.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amber*
  • Animals
  • Bacteria / classification
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Biodiversity*
  • Biological Evolution
  • Biology
  • DNA / genetics
  • DNA Repair
  • Ecosystem
  • Eukaryota / classification
  • Eukaryota / genetics
  • Eukaryota / pathogenicity
  • Fossils*
  • Fungi / classification
  • Fungi / genetics
  • Gene Amplification
  • Paleontology
  • Plant Roots / microbiology
  • Spores, Bacterial / classification
  • Spores, Bacterial / pathogenicity
  • Spores, Fungal / pathogenicity
  • Spores, Fungal / physiology
  • Viruses / classification
  • Viruses / genetics
  • Viruses / pathogenicity


  • Amber
  • DNA