Friday, November 21, 2008

'Breathtaking' study links life to Earth's 'mineral wealth'

A new study by the Carnegie Institution's Geophysical Laboratory links the emergence of life on Earth to the planets rich diversity of minerals, reports New Scientist. Surprisingly, "rocks and life evolved in parallel."

As plant life spread, earth's atmosphere was enriched with oxygen. Subsequently, "the chemical processes of oxidation and weathering generated a swathe of new species of metal-rich minerals." Decaying organic matter created new species of minerals as well, like those that make up coal.

How much of a role has life played in the mineral family tree?
  • When the solar system was created, there were 12 minerals
  • After the sun started burning, there were 60
  • As the Earth took shape, geochemical processes pushed the number to 500
  • Plate tectonics boosted the number to 1500
  • Life kicked the total number of minerals to 4,300
The study is flipping the field of geology on its head. "It's so obvious - you wonder why we geologists didn't think of it before," said one of the study's author's. Another geologist referred to the findings as "breathtaking."

Now that we've connected life to mineral abundance, we have a new tactic in the search for extraterrestrial life. "If we find certain minerals," said one expert, "they will point uniquely to certain organisms."

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.