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Palaeontology

Did prehistoric worms save the world ?

August 11, 2014 | Comment icon 5 comments



Did prehistoric ocean worms make our existence possible ? Image Credit: CC BY-SA 2.0 Vix_B
Burrowing worms may have had a profound impact on the development of life over 500 million years ago.
Modern humans and other complex life forms may never have existed at all if it hadn't been for a specific series of circumstances hundreds of millions of years ago that helped regulate the concentration of oxygen in the world's oceans.

At the dawn of the Cambrian period 570 million years ago, when multicellular organisms were just beginning to emerge, the amount of oxygen present in the water would have been of vital importance.
Scientists now believe that the key factor in maintaining this balance would have been the behavior of worms and other organisms that burrowed in to the sea floor exposing layers of bacteria-containing sediment. As this bacteria became exposed to oxygen it began to absorb increasing amounts of phosphate which is needed for algae and other photosynthetic ocean life to grow.

The resulting chain of events meant that the more the worms burrowed in to the sea floor, the less algae was grown and the less oxygen was released in to the ocean. Lower oxygens levels meant fewer worms and so the cycle repeated - regulating the ocean's oxygen levels.

"Although we are still far from knowing to what extent worms and their ilk influenced the geochemical history of our planet, this is a novel and testable hypothesis, which will inspire novel thinking," wrote biogeochemist Filip Meysman.

Source: ScienceMag.org | Comments (5)


Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by qxcontinuum 8 years ago
I think there is something wrong in the statement; it should have been bacteria have started releasing oxygen while consuming phosphates and nitrates. This bacteria is still present in modern times, called cyanobacteria From wiki By producing oxygen as a gas as a by-product of photosynthesis, cyanobacteria are thought to have converted the early reducing atmosphere into an oxidizing one, which dramatically changed the composition of life forms on Earth by stimulating biodiversity and leading to the near-extinction of oxygen-intolerant organisms. According to endosymbiotic theory, the chloropla... [More]
Comment icon #2 Posted by John Wesley Boyd 8 years ago
Bless the Maker and His water. Bless the coming and going of Him. May His passage cleanse the world. May He keep the world for His people
Comment icon #3 Posted by YukiEsmaElite0 8 years ago
Actually, this makes a lot of sense... I wonder if they're still helping with this even today.
Comment icon #4 Posted by magikgoddess 8 years ago
Never underestimate the usefulness of the little guys. Neat article.
Comment icon #5 Posted by jmccr8 8 years ago
Unfortunately I an not a bacteria and my gas may not incite life as we know it


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