Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Evolution stuck in slime for a billion years

Date:
February 18, 2014
Source:
Science in Public
Summary:
Researchers are providing a new explanation as to why life remained as little more than slime for a billion years, before rapidly diversifying in the 'Cambrian explosion of life'. Using a new technology originally developed for mineral exploration, the team has shown how varying levels of oxygen and biologically-important elements in the ancient oceans might have triggered the major evolutionary events that brought us here today.

Professor Large and Professor Maslennikov on the hunt for suitable black shales in Siberia.
Credit: University of Tasmania

Tasmanian researchers have revealed ancient conditions that almost ended life on Earth, using a new technique they developed to hunt for mineral deposits.

Related Articles


The first life developed in the ancient oceans around 3.6 billion years ago, but then nothing much happened. Life remained as little more than a layer of slime for a billion years. Suddenly, 550 million years ago, evolution burst back into action -- and here we are today. So what was the hold-up during those 'boring billion' years?

According to University of Tasmania geologist Professor Ross Large and his international team, the key was a lack of oxygen and nutrient elements, which placed evolution in a precarious position. "During that billion years, oxygen levels declined and the oceans were losing the ingredients needed for life to develop into more complex organisms."

By analysing ancient seafloor rocks, Ross and his Australian, Russian, US and Canadian colleagues were able to show that the slowdown in evolution was tightly linked to low levels of oxygen and biologically-important elements in the oceans.

"We've looked at thousands of samples of the mineral pyrite in rocks that formed in the ancient oceans. And by measuring the levels of certain trace elements in the pyrite, using a technique developed in our labs, we've found that we can tell an accurate story about how much oxygen and nutrients were around billions of years ago."

Their research will be published in the March issue of the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

"We were initially looking at oxygen levels in the ancient oceans and atmosphere to understand how mineral deposits form, and where to look for them today. That's a focus of the Centre for Ore Deposit and Exploration Science (CODES), which we established with ARC and industry funding at UTAS in 1989," Ross explains. "But the technology we have developed to find minerals can also tell us much about the evolution of life."

After an initial burst of oxygen, the study plots a long decline in oxygen levels during the 'boring billion' years before leaping up about 750-550 million years ago. "We think this recovery of oxygen levels led to a significant increase in trace metals in the ocean and triggered the 'Cambrian explosion of life'.

"We will be doing much more with this technology, but it's already becoming clear that there have been many fluctuations in trace metal levels over the millennia and these may help us understand a host of events including the emergence of life, fish, plants and dinosaurs, mass extinctions, and the development of seafloor gold and other ore deposits," says Ross.


Story Source:

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


Journal Reference:

  1. Ross R. Large, Jacqueline A. Halpin, Leonid V. Danyushevsky, Valeriy V. Maslennikov, Stuart W. Bull, John A. Long, Daniel D. Gregory, Elena Lounejeva, Timothy W. Lyons, Patrick J. Sack, Peter J. McGoldrick, Clive R. Calver. Trace element content of sedimentary pyrite as a new proxy for deep-time ocean–atmosphere evolution. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 2014; 389: 209 DOI: 10.1016/j.epsl.2013.12.020

Cite This Page:

Science in Public. "Evolution stuck in slime for a billion years." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 February 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140218143318.htm>.
Science in Public. (2014, February 18). Evolution stuck in slime for a billion years. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 6, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140218143318.htm
Science in Public. "Evolution stuck in slime for a billion years." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140218143318.htm (accessed March 6, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Fossils & Ruins News

Friday, March 6, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

What An Ancient Jawbone Could Tell Us About Human Evolution

What An Ancient Jawbone Could Tell Us About Human Evolution

Newsy (Mar. 5, 2015) A 2.8 million-year-old jawbone could represent the most ancient member of our genus ever discovered. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ringling Bros. Eliminating Elephant Acts

Ringling Bros. Eliminating Elephant Acts

AP (Mar. 5, 2015) The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is ending its iconic elephant acts. The circus&apos; parent company, Feld Entertainment, told the AP exclusively that the acts will be phased out by 2018 over growing public concern about the animals. (March 5) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Billionaire Paul Allen and Team Find Sunken Japanese Warship Off Philippines

Billionaire Paul Allen and Team Find Sunken Japanese Warship Off Philippines

Reuters - News Video Online (Mar. 4, 2015) A team led by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen finds a sunken Japanese World War 2 warship off the coast of the Philippines. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Long-Lost Ship Found? Microsoft Co-Founder Uncovers Wreckage

Long-Lost Ship Found? Microsoft Co-Founder Uncovers Wreckage

Newsy (Mar. 4, 2015) Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen says he has discovered the wreckage of the battleship Musashi in the central Philippines. 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