Bacteria Evolved to Save the Planet. Can We?

From Zócalo Public Square

After millions of years of gloriously successful life on Earth, a dangerous new organism arose and spread rapidly across the planet. With unprecedented efficiency, this revolutionary life form pumped noxious fumes into the air, destroyed ecosystems and exterminated a substantial fraction of its fellow species. And the gasses it added to the atmosphere drastically altered global temperatures so that, between habitat destruction and climate change, the world was changed forever.

Mankind? No! These events happened 2 billion years ago. The delinquent organisms were cyanobacteria, the first photosynthetic life forms to give off pure oxygen gas.

Oxygen, a highly reactive chemical, was deadly to all extant organisms and also destroyed methane, a potent greenhouse gas that helped keep our planet warm under the fainter sun of the distant past. Cyanobacteria precipitated one of the biggest disasters ever to hit our biosphere, but this apocalypse was also a vital step in creating today’s world: a world of large, energy-hungry organisms utterly reliant on oxygen, and a world where photosynthesis allows life to flourish in every nook and cranny on the face of the planet.

There may be surprising parallels between the, —> Read More Here


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