Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Learning To Live With Oxygen On Early Earth

Date:
October 18, 2006
Source:
Carnegie Institution
Summary:
Scientists at the Carnegie Institution and Penn State University have discovered evidence showing that microbes adapted to living with oxygen 2.72 billion years ago, at least 300 million years before the rise of oxygen in the atmosphere. The finding is the first concrete validation of a long-held hypothesis that oxygen was being produced and consumed by that time and that the transition to an oxygenated atmosphere was long term.

Coauthors Jennifer Eigenbrode and Katherine Freeman in the field.
Credit: Image courtesy of Carnegie Institution

Scientists at the Carnegie Institution and Penn State University* have discovered evidence showing that microbes adapted to living with oxygen 2.72 billion years ago, at least 300 million years before the rise of oxygen in the atmosphere. The finding is the first concrete validation of a long-held hypothesis that oxygen was being produced and consumed by that time and that the transition to an oxygenated atmosphere was long term. The results are published in the on-line early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, to appear the week of October 16th.

Related Articles


It is generally believed that before 2.4 billion years ago, Earth's atmosphere was essentially devoid of oxygen. Exactly when and how oxygen-producing photosynthesis evolved and began fueling the atmosphere with the gas that much of life depends on has been hotly debated for some time. Plants, algae, and cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) emit oxygen as a waste product of photosynthesis--the process by which sugar, essential for nutrition, is made from light, water, and carbon dioxide.

"Our evidence points to the likelihood that Earth was peppered with small 'oases' of shallow-water, oxygen-producing, photosynthetic microbes around 2.7 billion years ago," stated lead author Jennifer Eigenbrode of Carnegie's Geophysical Laboratory, who collected the data while pursuing her Ph.D. at Penn State. "Over time these oases must have expanded, eventually enriching the atmosphere with oxygen. Our data record this transition."

The researchers discovered changes in fossil isotopes of the life-essential element carbon in a 150 million-year section of rock that included shallow and deepwater sediments from the late Archean period (the Archean lasted from 3.8 to 2.5 billion years ago) in Hamersley Province in Western Australia. Isotopes are different forms of an element's atoms. The relative proportions of carbon and other isotopes in organic matter depend on chemical reactions that happen as the carbon wends its way through an organism's metabolism. There are two stable isotopes of carbon found in nature--12C and 13C--which differ only in the number of neutrons in the nucleus. By far the most abundant variety is in the lighter, 12C. About 1% is 13C, a heavier sibling with an additional neutron; it is the key to understanding photosynthetic organisms.

"Photosynthetic microbes evolved in the shallow water where light was plentiful," explained Eigenbrode. "They used light and CO2 to produce their food, like cyanobacteria do today. They gobbled up 12C and 13C, which became part of the organisms. The results are recorded in the rocks containing the remains for us to find billions of years later. Organisms leave behind different mixes of 12C and 13C depending on what they eat and how they metabolize it. Changes in these chemical fingerprints tell us about changes in how organisms got their energy and food."

In the Archean, microbes that could not live with oxygen--anaerobic organisms--ended up with relatively small amounts of 13C. As oxygen became available in shallow water due to oxygen-producing photosynthesis, anaerobic organisms were out-competed by microbes that had adapted to oxygen. As a result, the amount of 13C increased--first in shallow water, then in deeper water. Changes in the mix of carbon isotopes in these late Archean rocks indicate microbes were learning to live with oxygen well before the atmosphere began accumulating noticeable amounts of oxygen.

*The research was supported by NSF funds awarded to co-author Katherine H. Freeman of the Department of Geosciences at Penn State, and by the NASA Astrobiology Institute through its teams at the Carnegie Institution and Penn State.

The Carnegie Institution of Washington (http://www.CarnegieInstitution.org) has been a pioneering force in basic scientific research since 1902. It is a private, nonprofit organization with six research departments throughout the U.S. Carnegie scientists are leaders in plant biology, developmental biology, astronomy, materials science, global ecology, and Earth and planetary science.

The NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) is a distributed national organization for research and training, which explores questions about the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe. The institute is composed of 16 teams involving more than 500 scientists, educators, and students. It extends across the United States from Hawaii to Massachusetts.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Carnegie Institution. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Carnegie Institution. "Learning To Live With Oxygen On Early Earth." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 October 2006. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/10/061017085135.htm>.
Carnegie Institution. (2006, October 18). Learning To Live With Oxygen On Early Earth. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/10/061017085135.htm
Carnegie Institution. "Learning To Live With Oxygen On Early Earth." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/10/061017085135.htm (accessed October 24, 2014).

Share This



More Fossils & Ruins News

Friday, October 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Oldest Bone Ever Sequenced Shows Human/Neanderthal Mating

Oldest Bone Ever Sequenced Shows Human/Neanderthal Mating

Newsy (Oct. 23, 2014) A 45,000-year-old thighbone is showing when humans and neanderthals may have first interbred and revealing details about our origins. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Weird-Looking Dinosaur Solves 50-Year-Old Mystery

Weird-Looking Dinosaur Solves 50-Year-Old Mystery

Newsy (Oct. 23, 2014) You've probably seen some weird-looking dinosaurs, but have you ever seen one this weird? It's worth a look. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Goofy Dinosaur Blends Barney and Jar Jar Binks

Goofy Dinosaur Blends Barney and Jar Jar Binks

AP (Oct. 22, 2014) A collection of dinosaur bones reveal a creature that is far more weird and goofy-looking than scientists originally thought when they found just the arm bones nearly 50 years ago, according to a new report in the journal Nature. (Oct. 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Sunken WWII U-Boat That Fired On U.S. Convoy Found

Sunken WWII U-Boat That Fired On U.S. Convoy Found

Newsy (Oct. 22, 2014) U-576, a long-lost German U-boat the U.S. sank in 1942, has been found just 30 miles off North Carolina's coast and near the wreckage of another ship. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins