Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

UC Riverside researchers identify clay as major contributor to oxygen that enabled early animal life

03.02.2006


Study suggests steps a planet must go through for complex animal life to arise



Clay made animal life possible on Earth, a UC Riverside-led study finds. A sudden increase in oxygen in the Earth’s recent geological history, widely considered necessary for the expansion of animal life, occurred just as the rate of clay formation on the Earth’s surface also increased, the researchers report.

"Our study shows for the first time that the initial soils covering the terrestrial surface of Earth increased the production of clay minerals and provided the critical geochemical processes necessary to oxygenate the atmosphere and support multicellular animal life," said Martin Kennedy, an associate professor of sedimentary geology and geochemistry at UCR, who led the study.


Study results appear in the Feb. 2 issue of Science Express, which provides electronic publication of selected Science papers in advance of print.

Analyzing old sedimentary rocks, the researchers found evidence of an increase in clay mineral deposition in the oceans during a 200 million year period that fell between 1.1 to 0.54 billion years ago – a stretch of time known as the late Precambrian when oxygen suddenly increased in the Earth’s atmosphere. The increases in clay formation and oxygen shortly preceded – in geological time – the first animal fossils about 600 million years ago.

"This study shows how we can use principles developed from the study of modern environments to understand the very complex origin of life on our planet – studying a time in history that has left us only a scanty record of its conditions," said Lawrence M. Mayer, a professor of oceanography at the University of Maine and a co-author of the Science paper.

Clay minerals form in soils through biological interactions with weathering rocks and are then eroded and flushed to the sea, where they are deposited as mud. Because clay minerals are chemically reactive, they attract and absorb organic matter in ocean water, and physically shelter and preserve it.

The UCR-led study emphasizes the possibility that colonization of the land surface by a primitive terrestrial ecosystem (possibly involving fungi) accelerated clay formation, as happens in modern soils. Upon being washed down to the sea, the clay minerals were responsible for preserving more organic matter in marine sediments than had been the case in the absence of clays. Organic matter preservation results in an equal portion of oxygen released to the atmosphere through the chemical reaction of photosynthesis. Thus an increase in the burial of organic carbon made it possible for more oxygen to escape into the atmosphere, the researchers posit.

"One of the things we least understand is why animals evolved so late in Earth history," Kennedy said. "Why did animals wait until the eleventh hour, whereas evidence for more primitive life dates back to billions of years? One of the best bets to explain the difference is an increase in oxygen concentration in the atmosphere, which is necessary for animal life and was likely too low through most of Earth’s history."

To establish a change in clay abundance during the late Precambrian, the researchers studied thick sections of ancient sedimentary rocks in Australia, China and Scandinavia, representing a history of hundreds of millions of years, to identify when clay minerals increased in the sediment from almost nothing to modern depositional levels.

"We predicted we would only find a significant percentage of clay minerals in sediments toward the end of the Precambrian, when complex life arose, while earlier sediments would have less clay content," Kennedy said. "This test is easier than it sounds. Because clay minerals make up the bulk of sediment deposited today, we are saying that it should be largely absent in ancient rocks. And this is just what one finds."

The study attracted the attention of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration during the proposal stage, and the agency helped fund the research.

"NASA is interested in what conditions to look for on other planets that might lead to the arrival of life," Kennedy said. "What are the processes? Using Earth as our most detailed study site, what are the necessary steps a planet needs to go through to enable complex animal life to arise? If oxygen is the metabolic pathway, then we need to know what conditions have to allow for that to happen. The geologic record provides us with a record of these steps that occurred on Earth."

Iqbal Pittalwala | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://ww.ucr.edu
http://www.mediasources.ucr.edu/

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Europe’s Demographic Future. Where the Regions Are Heading after a Decade of Crises
10.08.2017 | Berlin-Institut für Bevölkerung und Entwicklung

nachricht Scientists reveal source of human heartbeat in 3-D
07.08.2017 | University of Manchester

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

A Map of the Cell’s Power Station

18.08.2017 | Life Sciences

Engineering team images tiny quasicrystals as they form

18.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Researchers printed graphene-like materials with inkjet

18.08.2017 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>