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International team of scientists discover clue to delay of life on Earth
Date:3/26/2008

tinues Anbar. Eukaryotes depend on bacteria having an easy enough time fixing nitrogen that theres enough to go around. So if bacteria were struggling to get enough molybdenum, there probably wouldnt have been enough fixed nitrogen for eukaryotes to flourish.

These molybdenum depletions may have retarded the development of complex life such as animals for almost two billion years of Earth history, says Lyons. The amount of molybdenum in the ocean probably played a major role in the development of early life.

This research was motivated by a review article published in Science in 2002 by Anbar and Andy Knoll, a colleague at Harvard University. Knoll was perplexed by the fact that eukaryotes didnt dominate the world until around 0.7 billion years ago, even though they seemed to have evolved before 2.7 billion years ago. Together, Anbar and Knoll postulated that molybdenum deficiency was the key, arguing that the metal should have been scarce in ancient oceans because there was so little oxygen in the atmosphere in those times.

In todays high-oxygen world, molybdenum is the most abundant transition metal in the oceans. That is because the primary source of molybdenum to the ocean is the reaction of oxygen with molybdenum-bearing minerals in rocks. So the hypotheses rode on the idea that the amount of molybdenum in the oceans should track the amount of oxygen. To test that idea, Scott, Lyons and Anbar examined rock samples from ancient seafloors by dissolving them in a cocktail of acids and analyzing the rock for molybdenum content using a mass spectrometer. Many of these analyses were carried out using state-of-the art instrumentation in the W. M. Keck Foundation Laboratory for Environmental Biogeochemistry at Arizona State University. The scientists found significant evidence for a molybdenum-depleted ocean relative to the high levels measured in modern, oxygen-rich seawater.

By studying Earths ancient oceans, atmosphere and biolog
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Contact: Nikki Staab
nstaab@asu.edu
480-727-9329
Arizona State University
Source:Eurekalert

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