sciencehabit writes You can credit your existence to tiny wormlike creatures that lived 500 million years ago, a new study suggests. By tunneling through the sea floor, scientists say, these creatures kept oxygen concentrations at just the right level to allow animals and other complex life to evolve. The finding may help answer an enduring mystery of Earth's past. The idea is that as they dug and wiggled, these early multicellular creatures—some were likely worms as long as 40 cm—exposed new layers of seafloor sediment to the ocean's water. Each new batch of sediment that settles onto the sea floor contains bacteria; as those bacteria were exposed to the oxygen in the water, they began storing a chemical called phosphate in their cells. So as the creatures churned up more sediment layers, more phosphate built up in ocean sediments and less was found in seawater. Because algae and other photosynthetic ocean life require phosphate to grow, removing phosphate from seawater reduced their growth. Less photosynthesis, in turn, meant less oxygen released into the ocean. In this way, the system formed a negative feedback loop that automatically slowed the rise in oxygen levels as the levels increased.
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