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 Multi-year study finds 'hotspots' of ammonia over world's major agricultural areas
17.03.2017 | University of Maryland

nachricht Diabetes Drug May Improve Bone Fat-induced Defects of Fracture Healing
17.03.2017 | Deutsches Institut für Ernährungsforschung Potsdam-Rehbrücke

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: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

Im Focus: Researchers Imitate Molecular Crowding in Cells

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Argon is not the 'dope' for metallic hydrogen

24.03.2017 | Materials Sciences

Astronomers find unexpected, dust-obscured star formation in distant galaxy

24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Gravitational wave kicks monster black hole out of galactic core

24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>