Largest Extinction Event on Earth Attributed To a Microbe?

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A Micrograph Of Methanosarcina Barkeri Cells
A Micrograph Of Methanosarcina Barkeri Cells embedded in an extracellular structure.

By Michael Schirber
Astrobiology Magazine
7-27-14

      The environment can produce sudden shocks to the life of our planet through impacting space rocks, erupting volcanoes and other events.

But sometimes life itself turns the tables and strikes a swift blow back to the environment. New research suggests that the biggest extinction event on record may have been initiated by a small, but significant change to a tiny microbe.

The end-Permian (or PT) extinction event occurred 252 million years ago. It is often called the Great Dying because around 90 percent of marine species disappeared in one fell swoop. Similar numbers died on land as well, producing a stark contrast between Permian rock layers beneath (or before) the extinction and the Triassic layers above. Extinctions are common throughout time, but for this one, the fossil record truly skipped a beat.

“The end-Permian is the greatest extinction event that we know of,” said Daniel Rothman, a geophysicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “The changes in the fossil record were obvious even to 19th Century geologists.” . . .

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