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Single Microbe May Have Triggered the "Great Dying" 171

An anonymous reader writes with an excerpt from Medical Daily about a new theory for what triggered the "Great Dying: " "Researchers believe that they may finally know why the event occurred, but the theory is not without controversy. There are several theories, including the possibility of a meteorite hitting the planet. Previously, most researchers believed that the Permian mass extinction was a result of a series of volcanic eruptions in what is now Siberia. ... However, Daniel Rothman from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is floating around a different theory. As he presented in a meeting for the American Geophysical Union, he believes that the mass extinction could have been caused by something much smaller. His theory is that the extinction was caused by a single strain of bacteria."
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Single Microbe May Have Triggered the "Great Dying"

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  • The kaboom (Score:5, Funny)

    by Dexter Herbivore ( 1322345 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2012 @04:17AM (#42323039) Journal
    But where's the Earth shattering kaboom? There's supposed to be an Earth shattering kaboom!
    • But where's the Earth shattering kaboom? There's supposed to be an Earth shattering kaboom!

      Then, due to the sheer amount of frustration at the lack of bacterial extinctions requiring massive detonations, Dexter's entire head exploded in aneurysm causing what can only be described as a minor "Earth Shattering kaboom!"

      Here Lies Dexter Herbivore
      "It's the little things that count."

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Volcanic eruptions that last millions of years could count as a kaboom.

    • by bmo ( 77928 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2012 @05:36AM (#42323439)

      Obviously the Illudium Pu-36 Explosive Space Modulator was stolen by a rabbit.

      "It obstructs my view of Venus"


      • by lgw ( 121541 )

        You know, I've seen it spelled "illudium" before, but I always assumed it was "Eludium", and element somewhat less rare then "Unobtanium".

        • by bmo ( 77928 )

          Chuck Jones called it Illudium.

          But then again, he also called it Q-36 in his book "Chuck Amuck" instead of Pu-36 which is what wound up on the audio track.


    • Re:The kaboom (Score:4, Insightful)

      by gmuslera ( 3436 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2012 @07:24AM (#42323943) Homepage Journal
      That will be done by the cause of the Second Great Dying, this time will be something a bit bigger than a microbe, in fact will look a lot like us.
    • by isorox ( 205688 )

      But where's the Earth shattering kaboom? There's supposed to be an Earth shattering kaboom!

      No boom today, boom tomorrow (well on Friday)

    • If there's no one there to hear it, does the kaboom make a noise?

  • His theory is that the extinction was caused by a single strain of bacteria. [emphasis added]

    Aw, that's not as much fun. The headline made me think that this guy somehow had it narrowed down to one actual organism.

  • Yeah, we produce a lot of methane here too.
    I can see how it might kill off some species.
    Put a cork in it, people!

  • By reading the Wikipedia article, I have determined that it also may have been:
    - A single rock
    - A single volcano
    - The build-up of a single type of gas
    - The rising of a single body of water
    - Lack of a single element in the water

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Yes. A ridiculous theory. But about as plausible, after all it's just another virus...

    Zombie dinosaurs chomped their way through the whole planet, then finally decomposed themselves over time. Only small mammals who could hide underground or birds that could fly away escaped those brain-lovin' undead dinos!

    Ask the sharks; they saw the whole thing.

    • by Hatta ( 162192 )

      I asked a shark, but he just told me to suck his dick.

    • by dwye ( 1127395 )

      Zombie dinosaurs chomped their way through the whole planet, then finally decomposed themselves over time.

      Um, this refers to the Permian Extinction. Therefore, it was caused by zombie frogs. Not nearly as awesome.

  • Volcanic eruptions in Siberia = entire planet dusted with nickel.

    Eh, geologist comes up with geological theory. Funding running a bit low?

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      the quantity of nickel required is "very small". It's a catalyst, not a consumable. When in ash, teh jet stream and ocean currenst are very good at distributing it. Completely plausible as a theory goes. Now, do we have proof? Not yet, however, this is better than many of the "look for money" theories.

  • Mass extinction in a few thousand years and a single species responsible - I see a parallel. It isn't mass extinction exactly, but mankind has caused quite some disturbance in both land and sea ecosystems already. A few thousand years should be plenty enough to cause real mass extinction.

    • Why would we wait that long?
      Most of the critters are pretty useless to us already or will be so in the near future.

    • by lgw ( 121541 )

      Mass extinctions are fairly common throughout history - and we're chump change on the scale of such things.

      For example, the Strait of Gibraltar is closing right now (on a geological scale - mere thousands of years), which will isolate the Med. This will cause the Med to evaporate in just a few centuries, leaving the most Hellish wastland imaginable temperatures in the basin will exeed the boiling point of water. That will in turn play merry Hell with all of Europe's climate, and likely worldwide climate.

  • Rothman analyzed a sample of sediment from the end of the Permian era that he obtained in China. From his analysis, he found that the rise in carbon levels was way too sharp to be caused by a geologic event like volcanic eruptions. He argues that instead, a microbe was behind this sudden rise.
    Called methanosarcina, this sea-dwelling microbe is responsible for most of the methane produced biologically even today. Rothman and his team discovered that methanosarcina developed the ability to produce methane 231 million years ago. While that ability came around too late to be single-handedly responsible for the link.


    However, mathanosarcina requires nickel in order to produce methane quickly. Nickel levels spiked almost 251 million years ago, likely because of a spike in Siberian lava from the volcanoes themselves. This indicates that methanosarcina was directly responsible for producing the methane that killed off an overwhelming majority of the Earth's species.

    Don't see where he proves the methane did it...

    • Perhaps the nickel was present and widely distributed pre-methanosarcina explosion, and they 'ate' it all, so there's little left now.

  • by maweki ( 999634 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2012 @05:50AM (#42323493) Homepage
    it's how you mass-extinct with it.
  • "And scattered about it, some in their overturned war-machines, some in the now rigid handling-machines, and a dozen of them stark and silent and laid in a row, were the Martiansâ"dead!â"slain by the putrefactive and disease bacteria against which their systems were unprepared; slain as the red weed was being slain; slain, after all man's devices had failed, by the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth." Admittedly, Wells had a better fleshed out mechanism for his bacter
    • Re:H.G. Wells (Score:4, Interesting)

      by mfnickster ( 182520 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2012 @11:25AM (#42325703)

      I'll see your Wells and raise you a Watts:

      "Let me tell you what happens if this thing gets out," she said quietly. "First off, nothing. We outnumber it, you see. At first we swamp it through sheer numbers, the models predict all sorts of skirmishes and false starts. But eventually it gets a foothold. Then it outcompetes conventional decomposers and monopolizes our inorganic nutrient base. That cuts the whole trophic pyramid off at the ankles. You, and me, and the viruses and the giant sequoias all just fade away for want of nitrates or some stupid thing. And welcome to the Age of Behemoth."

  • The Mayan calendar ends on December 21st, and drilling is due to resume into the Ellsworth sub-Antartic lake on the 21st? []

    I for one welcome our tiny little waterborn underlords.

  • Much appreciated.
  • He is mistaken (Score:4, Insightful)

    by paiute ( 550198 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2012 @08:13AM (#42324131)
    He does not have a theory. He has a hypothesis.
    • And methanosarcina are archaea [], not bacteria, a fact that was three clicks away from the Wikipedia entry on methanosarcina [], which is apparently too many clicks for Slashdot or Medical Daily (but New Scientist got it right). I suspect that what was actually presented at the meeting was a cogent hypothesis for how methanogens contributed to the Great Dying following an increase in bio-available nickel. What we get is the result after several application of the stupid filter that is the Internet.

  • Cofactor F430 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by epine ( 68316 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2012 @08:27AM (#42324193)

    Cofactor F430 []

    Forget the organism. This is about the advent of a novel reaction pathway, that scales on the availability of nickel. Surprisingly, geology might have something to say on that score. Any vigorous reaction pathway that bubbles madly away at an oceanic scale is almost certain to colour the infrared signature of our thin gas membrane. Imagine if everyone on the planet had an F430.

    There's a lot to like about this hypothesis. I've seen worse. To determine exactly how this pathway becomes prolific at global scale would take decades of further study. It's as yet a humble beginning, of the kind that sometimes pans out.

  • Setting aside the lack of detail and the characterization of an untested hypothesis as a theory, if you follow the link [] in TFA about the dissenting opinions you'll find this gem:

    Methane explosion

    But just what caused that massive methane release remained a mystery. Daniel Rothman, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and his colleagues wondered whether ocean-dwelling bacteria that churn out methane were the culprits.

    His team found through genetic analysis that bacteria called methanosarcina evolved the ability to break down nickel and make methane as part of its metabolism about 251 million years ago. The bacteria may have exploded in population, thereby releasing the ocean's vast methane reserves. And because the bacteria add an oxygen molecule to methane during metabolism, an exponential rise in methanosarcina may have catastrophically depleted ocean oxygen levels.

    So now bacteria are performing alchemy (converting Ni to CH4) and "adding an oxygen to methane" no longer produces methanol (CH3OH) or formaldehyde (CH2O), rather it is apparently just "methane with an added oxygen" which is apparently still a potent greenhouse gas.

    • It is fairly clear that this is not alchemy. The nickel is acting as a catalyst.

      • Read what they wrote: "methanosarcina evolved the ability to break down nickel and make methane." You can't break nickel down without doing nuclear chemistry--you can only change its oxidation state. It's clear to anyone with even a basic grasp of chemistry that methanogens use nickel enzyme complexes as catalysts, but the author of this ridiculous failure of journalism clearly thought that methanosarcina produce methane from nickel.

  • Sounds a bit like H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, but involving just one planet.

  • by Muad'Dave ( 255648 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2012 @08:54AM (#42324297) Homepage

    PLEASE - let's not have any more articles from until they stop firing off 2 OR MORE auto-playing videos at the same time on every article.

    • Your script blocking browser ad-on is broken. No ads here at all.

    • I had to explicitly tell NoScript that is untrusted.
      That made the stupid auto-play video stop triggering.

      auto-playing flash videos are the new ::blink:: tag

  • Hey baby! Nice scales! Why don't you and I go back to my place and EEW WHAT'S THAT ON YOUR FACE?!

    20 years later, no more dinosaurs.

  • by Chrisq ( 894406 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2012 @09:41AM (#42324651)
    If this is correct it is the second time an organism has wiped out most existing life forms The Great Oxygenation Event [] is thought to have killed most existing forms of life - then single-celled organisms. It makes you wonder, could it happen again - a bacteria completely changing Earth's chemistry in a way that's incompatible with most existing life forms?
    • It makes you wonder, could it happen again - a bacteria completely changing Earth's chemistry in a way that's incompatible with most existing life forms?

      Maybe it's not a strain of bacteria. Maybe it's us.

      Anyway, whatever happens, I'm quite sure the Tardigrades [] will survive it.

  • Single Microbe May Have Triggered the "Great Dying"

    It's the strain from Andromeda. Michael had it all figgered out.

  • Its locked in water-ice deposits called methane hydrates. [] Its mainly an annoyance to oil companies because these appear as fake oil deposits in seismic records. Hydrates also lock up high pressure gas which is dangerous to drilling if you do not properly anticipate them. Otherwise these natural gas deposits are far more expensive to produce than land shale-gas. So they are not on the economic radar yet and may be the fossil fuel of the 22nd century.

    These are also mentioned a potential problem for cl
    • So some scientist suggest a runaway disaster of more heat releasing more methane causing more heat, etc. This has postulated the cause of a previous mass extinction in the geologic record.

      ...and this very thing is happening in the Siberian permafrost as we speak. It's really a huge swamp and it's started defrosting.

It's fabulous! We haven't seen anything like it in the last half an hour! -- Macy's