The microbe that could have caused the largest mass extinction on Earth

The microbe that could have caused the largest mass extinction on Earth

Throughout the history of our planet there have been five mass extinctions, plus another that seems to have already started.

There are many causes that are speculated to have given rise to these phenomena, from asteroids until fluctuations of the magnetic field, but there are also some studies around the involvement of some microbes; since, as you know, these bugs may be small, but also thugs.

And no, incredibly the intervention of microorganisms in mass extinction processes has nothing to do with the disease transmissionbut with the contamination caused by some of the products of your metabolism. This is the case of the Methanosarcina, a microbe producer of methane which in 2014 was pointed out by the MIT as a guilty candidate for the largest mass extinction on Earth.

What is a mass extinction?

It is known as mass extinction the one that leads to disappear no offspring yet 10% of the planet’s species over the course of a year or, conversely, fifty% in a period between one and three and a half million years.

As I said at the beginning, the planet Earth It has already experienced five of these extinctions and there is currently much controversy over whether we have already entered the sixth.

Methanosarcina, the microbes that caused the largest mass extinction on Earth

The methanosarcinas are a group of microorganisms from the domain Archaea characterized by anaerobic methangene metabolism or, what is the same, the ability to live in absence of oxygen, producing methane as a result.

They are found in a large number of different environments, from garbage bags until sewage water, also passing through the digestive tract of some hoofed animals; like goats, sheep and cows. They have even been found in humans!

How could the Methanosarcina to the largest mass extinction on Earth?

Make 252 million years, for unknown reasons until recently the 90% of the species of our planet disappeared, giving rise to the largest mass extinction in Earth’s history.

At that time the eruption of a large number of volcanoes, but they were not directly the cause of the extinction, but the nickel present in its emissions, which fostered the growth of these archaea able to metabolize any close carbon source, transforming it into methane.

This methane could accumulate giving rise to a radical change in climate and the composition of the oceans and triggering the extinction of most species of the planet.

To reach this conclusion the MIT researchers they used three hard evidence. On the one hand, geochemistry showed a sudden increase in ocean concentrations of carbon dioxide during the Prmico, when this great extinction took place.

On the other hand, the genetic evidence show a radical change in the Methanosarcina, which could increase the methane emission levels from the increase in carbon dioxide generated in the ocean. This ability to generate gas at high speed was due to the gene transfer of another microbe that lived with them during the Prmico.

Finally, they found in the sediments of this time a significant increase in the nickel levels, reason why the conditions were totally favorable for the growth of these microorganisms.

As you can see, it doesn’t take a large volcano, a meteorite or any other amazing phenomenon to extinguish most of the terrestrial species. It is enough to be a small microorganism with enough weapons to exterminate all the inhabitants of the planet.

Image arches: The pin

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