Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Earth's history to be rewritten: Oxygen appeared 700 million years earlier than previously thought

Date:
September 26, 2013
Source:
University of Copenhagen - Faculty of Science
Summary:
Until now, science has believed that oxygen in the Earth's atmosphere has been around for roughly 2.3 billion years, or roughly half way back along our planet's 4.6 billion year timeline. However, new research results provide evidence that the dating of a so-called “Great Oxygenation Event” needs a 700- million-year backwards recalibration.

Until now, science has believed that oxygen in Earth's atmosphere has been around for roughly 2.3 billion years, or roughly half way back along our planet's 4.6 billion year timeline. However, new research results provide evidence that the dating of a so-called "Great Oxygenation Event" needs a 700- million-year backwards recalibration. The dramatic results come from a project involving researchers from the University of Copenhagen (UCPH), the Nordic Center for Earth Evolution (nordCEE), the University of Southern Denmark and several other universities globally. The incredible discovery suggests that the history of life on Earth now includes a previously unrecognised chapter. The results are now published in the scientific journal, Nature.

"We have readjusted the point in time when oxygen-producing bacteria, and photosynthesis, impacted land-based life on Earth and put oxygen into the atmosphere. This was a fundamental event that allowed for the life on Earth and evolution as we know it. It was not a localized event, but something that influenced the planet as a whole." Lasse Nørbye Døssing, Postdoc, Department of Geosciences and Natural Resources Management at the University of Copenhage.

It's been nearly 15 years since Professor Minik Rosing of the University of Copenhagen asserted that terrestrial life began with primitive bacteria living in Precambrian oceans some 3.8 billion years ago.

However, these microscopic organisms were in no way able to produce the amounts of oxygen necessary to alter Earth's atmospheric composition and thus form the basis of life as we know it. Millions upon millions of more years were needed to advance to this stage.

Planet's oldest soil

The new and dramatic aspect of Earth's history is based upon the analysis of ancient rock samples collected from 1000 metres beneath South Africa. The new chapter has been investigated, analysed and now co-written by among others, Postdoc Lasse Nørbye Døssing, of the University of Copenhagen's Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management.

Døssing and his colleagues have extended the 2.3 billion years that it was thought since large amounts of oxygen appeared in the atmosphere by an additional 700 million years. His project colleagues come from universities in Denmark and from around the world, including: the Nordic Center for Earth Evolution (NordCEE) in Odense, Denmark; The University of Southern Denmark; the University of Johannesburg, South Africa; Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany; and the University of British Columbia, Canada.

Døssing's colleague Sean Crowe from the University of British Columbia states:

"Our investigations indicate that bacteria were able produce large amounts of oxygen three billion-years-ago and thereby create the foundation for one of the most important chemical processes on earth -- photosynthesis. Microscopic bacteria's ability to allow trees and other plant life to take in CO2 and produce oxygen in return, for example. This was the beginning of a long and complicated process that brings us to today, a point in time when nearly 20 percent of Earth's atmosphere is composed of oxygen and the rest, nearly all nitrogen. These bacteria are the reason that we as humans, as well as other beings, have been able to breath and thus populate the planet.

The big question

Besides being of interest in relation to atmospheric chemistry, the results are of great significance for evolutionary history. And that includes the evolution of humans from primitive beings to top creatures in the animal kingdom.

Lasse Nørbye Dossing: "As a geologist, I'll leave it to the evolutionary biologists and philosophers to answer the question of where humans, as a species, would be today if we didn't have the extra 700 million years of sufficient oxygen in the atmosphere. But it is thought-provoking that our research results have provided evolutionary history with a new and not entirely insignificant chapter."

One who is prepared to comment on the gripping research is Professor Eske Willerslev, a DNA researcher and evolutionary biologist at the University of Copenhagen famous for his genetic mapping of extinct species and prehistoric humans.

"These are incredibly interesting results that Døssing and the other researchers have reached. The results point to the fact that forms of terrestrial life dependent upon oxygen have taken longer to evolve than we had previously thought. Conversely, it could also suggest that this type of life has been around for longer than believed. Whatever the case, this new research will prompt researchers to look for life further back than we had previously believed possible," stresses Professor Willerslev.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Copenhagen - Faculty of Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Sean A. Crowe, Lasse N. Døssing, Nicolas J. Beukes, Michael Bau, Stephanus J. Kruger, Robert Frei, Donald E. Canfield. Atmospheric oxygenation three billion years ago. Nature, 2013; 501 (7468): 535 DOI: 10.1038/nature12426

Cite This Page:

University of Copenhagen - Faculty of Science. "Earth's history to be rewritten: Oxygen appeared 700 million years earlier than previously thought." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 September 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130926102630.htm>.
University of Copenhagen - Faculty of Science. (2013, September 26). Earth's history to be rewritten: Oxygen appeared 700 million years earlier than previously thought. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130926102630.htm
University of Copenhagen - Faculty of Science. "Earth's history to be rewritten: Oxygen appeared 700 million years earlier than previously thought." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130926102630.htm (accessed August 20, 2014).

Share This




More Fossils & Ruins News

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Disquieting Times for Malaysia's 'fish Listeners'

Disquieting Times for Malaysia's 'fish Listeners'

AFP (Aug. 19, 2014) — Malaysia's last "fish listeners" -- practitioners of a dying local art of listening underwater to locate their quarry -- try to keep the ancient technique alive in the face of industrial trawling and the depletion of stocks. Duration: 02:29 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Mother And Son Find Woolly Mammoth Tusks 22 Years Apart

Mother And Son Find Woolly Mammoth Tusks 22 Years Apart

Newsy (Aug. 15, 2014) — A mother and son in Alaska uncovered woolly mammoth tusks in the same river more than two decades apart. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Fossils Reveal Ancient Flying Reptile With 'Butterfly Head'

Fossils Reveal Ancient Flying Reptile With 'Butterfly Head'

Newsy (Aug. 14, 2014) — Newly found fossils reveal a previously unknown species of flying reptile with a really weird head, which some say looks like a butterfly. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Clearing WWII's Explosive Legacy in the Pacific

Clearing WWII's Explosive Legacy in the Pacific

AFP (Aug. 11, 2014) — The hulks of tanks can still be found rusting in the jungles of Palau, but the fierce fighting that scarred the Pacific island nation in WWII has left a more dangerous legacy - unexploded bombs that pose a constant risk to locals. Duration: 00:47 Video provided by AFP
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:

More Coverage


Ancient Soils Reveal Clues to Early Life on Earth

Sep. 25, 2013 — Oxygen appeared in the atmosphere up to 700 million years earlier than we previously thought, according to new research, raising new questions about the evolution of early ... read more
from the past week

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