An international research team of Royal Holloway researchers at the University of St Andrews, Syracuse University and the University of London has identified the existence of a possible new food source for the first life forms on our planet.
Even today, life on Earth is largely based on a number of highly critical elements such as nitrogen and phosphorus. These nutrient elements are inevitable requirements for all life forms, so much so that the formation of nucleic acid DNA, which is the software code of our heredity molecules and proteins, depends on these elements as it joins their structure.
We provide largely phosphorus by creating resources from the earth’s crust, i.e. rocks, and azotu from the atmosphere. However, we know that as the Earth’s surface and vital environment show significant changes within geological time periods, changes are occurring in the stocks of these elements.
In the paper published in Nature Geoscience, it was explained that the supply of all these elements directly affects the formation of the Earth’s oxygen-rich atmosphere and plays a key role in the development of living life on earth in its early teens.
The most dramatic of these changes eventually occurred in the process following the evolution of photosynthesis, in which oxygen was released. In this process, there was an increase in atmospheric oxygen through carbon participation in the biosphere and the Great Oxidation Event (GOE) 2.3 billion years ago.
In addition to being critical vital building blocks, the existence of nitrogen and phosphorus in the oceans on the planet in the pre-GOE process was not fully understood. In particular, it was being investigated how they supported life and/or how they responded to our Earth’s oxygen fill-up.
On rock samples that were well preserved and previously found to carry early evidence of oxygenic photosynthesis 2.7 billion years ago, researchers examined the early nitrogen cycle on Earth to obtain first phase information on the status and concentration of oxygen on our planet.
Christopher Junium, one of the researchers, stated that they had a very valuable piece of small rock from the time period mentioned and that it was very suitable for their analysis. According to Junium’s statement, the stones from this time period were generally deformed or scientifically without evidence, warming up enough to lose traces of life due to plate tectonics.
For the first time, the stone samples examined provided direct evidence of the formation of a giant ammonium pool in the oceans prior to the Great Oxidation Event. This ammonium must have originated in the early biosphere and the azota that would provide oxygen production.
Aubrey Zerkle, a researcher at the University of St Andrews’ School of Earth and Environmental Sciences who led the research team, said in a statement that ammonium, which we recognize today as the bad smelling substance in cleaning materials, is a kind of buffet service for the first oxygen producing organisms.
In addition to the importance of the data it provides in understanding the importance of the nitrogen cycle for global oxidation, the new findings also suggest a theoretical plane for food feedback in environmental correlations for early vital evolution.
It seems that we can say that when life on Earth begins to form, and especially when it begins to diversify with the increase of oxygen, and just before, nutritional limits are solved by an unorthinkable method and life is supported on ammonium until conditions change.
Source and Read Ahead
Yang, C. K. Junium, N. V. Grassineau, E. G. Nisbet, G. Izon, C. Mettam, A. Martin, A. L. Zerkle. Ammonium availability in the Late Archaean nitrogen cycle. Nature Geoscience, 2019; https://www.nature.com/articles/s41561-019-0371-1
Syracuse University News Website, Ammonium Fertilized Early Life on Earth, May 21, 2019 https://news.syr.edu/blog/2019/05/21/ammonium-fertilized-early-life-on-earth/