Name the biggest extinction event in history. Done? There’s a good chance you rattled off something in the vein of, “Uhhh…asteroid, ice age, one of those.” But according to scientists, you’re waaaaay off.
What caused the biggest die-off in Earth’s history wasn’t a celestial missile, or the frosty weather shift that followed, but something far more innocuous by today’s standards. Something we can’t live without, actually: oxygen.
A boon to evolutionary science, geologists have discovered what they believe to be the moment that photosynthesis broke onto the scene among cyanobacteria, freeing oxygen from water molecules and essentially poisoning the anaerobic microorganisms that made up Earth’s population before then. The advent of “air,” as we know it, would eradicate many living groups on a microscopic scale before advanced life crawled from the goo.
You can read more here about how scientists used South African rock samples to support their exciting theory. At billions of years in the making, it’s a fascinating story. —MN
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