Tuesday 10 December 2019

Microbial sex killed more than 90pc of life on Earth

Deadly microbe
Deadly microbe

Steve Connor

The biggest mass extinction in the history of the world which killed off more than 90pc of all living species happened because of an act of microbial sex that caused a suffocating release of methane and carbon dioxide, a study has found.

The mass extinction – known as The Great Dying – occurred at the end of the Permian period some 252 million years ago, and began the Triassic period.

Scientists had previously proposed possible causes ranging from huge volcanic eruptions and global climate change to a cataclysmic asteroid impact.

Now, however, a team of scientists has found evidence to suggest that the passing of genetic material between two species of microbes in a form of sex led to the sudden acquisition of a new set of genes.

This enabled methane-producing microbes to feed off the abundant organic carbon in the oceans at that time and the explosive growth of these microbes led to the release of their waste gases, suffocating almost all life on the planet.

Co-author of the study, Dr Greg Fournier, of Massachusetts Institute of Technology said: "The growth of microbial populations is among the few phenomena capable of increasing carbon production exponentially." (© Independent News Service)

Independent News Service

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News