Suspending Life
April 18, 2008 6:10 PM   Subscribe

Suspending Life. "If almost every species on Earth was killed some 250 million years ago, how did our ancient ancestors survive and evolve into us?"
posted by homunculus (31 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think it's a safe bet that every species on Earth wasn't killed. I had a hard enough time just getting rid of some ants last summer, I can't imagine how hard it would be to get rid of all life on the planet.
posted by mullingitover at 6:24 PM on April 18, 2008


Interesting read - thanks for the link. I'm no paleontologist, though, so I'm hoping someone could clear up a question I had. How did the Earth ever recover from its H2S-saturated state (with the oxygen-less oceans, the lack of ice caps or ozone layer, and the sulfur bacteria everywhere)? What shifted to make the oceans livable again?
posted by wanderingmind at 6:30 PM on April 18, 2008


how did our ancient ancestors survive and evolve into us?

The little baby Jeebus worked it all out with Adam and Eve, and there was no evolution involved. Read your bible!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:31 PM on April 18, 2008 [5 favorites]


wandringmind, the original high CO2 level was due to volcanic activity. The H2S bacteria don't generate it and while it took a long time, because the anoxic oceans did suppress normal plant life, they didn't completely eliminate it and they eventually scrubbed the CO2 from the atmosphere. That, in turn, made life much harder for the H2S producing organisms and they slunk back to the bottom.
posted by localroger at 6:39 PM on April 18, 2008


Fascinating! But I wonder, why do we dislike the smell of Hydrogen Sulfide? If it's such a large part of our evolutionary past and a beneficial chemical, shouldn't we think it smells yummy?
posted by The Light Fantastic at 7:03 PM on April 18, 2008


If it's such a large part of our evolutionary past and a beneficial chemical, shouldn't we think it smells yummy?

It's not the slightest bit beneficial under anything like normal circumstances; at best it depresses your vital signs, at worst it ends them. It was only benign for a very small set of individuals during a period of what was otherwise species death because depressed vital signs turned out in that instance to be better than the alternative.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:20 PM on April 18, 2008 [2 favorites]


This is a great post. It's not often that a completely unique hypothesis comes out surrounding evolution of life.
posted by Octoparrot at 7:48 PM on April 18, 2008


In nature, it's not a good thing to go into suspended animation unless all the things that can eat you are either already inanimated too or dead first. It's not something you'd ever want to do voluntarily, and you'd probably achieve the best level of exposure by running from the fumes as hard as you could while possible before they overcame you.
posted by localroger at 7:48 PM on April 18, 2008


I kinda like the smell of Hydrogen Sulfide because I associate it with hot springs.
posted by homunculus at 7:52 PM on April 18, 2008


newsweek sorta had a similar story on suspended animation, but from an entirely 'nother angle, cf. :P

also see 'abolishing ageing' and btw 'can we cure aging?'

cheers!
posted by kliuless at 8:19 PM on April 18, 2008


Um.... because "almost" doesn't mean every species, and for the surviving species, in case it might be difficult to apprehend, 250 million years is a fucking long time.
posted by chimaera at 8:28 PM on April 18, 2008 [3 favorites]


Previous post on Peter Ward's H2S extinction hypothesis.
posted by russilwvong at 8:47 PM on April 18, 2008


I thought Ceiling Cat brought us back. Cats don't have opposable thumbs, so who would open the cans to feed them if we weren't around?
posted by misha at 8:49 PM on April 18, 2008


There be no Ceiling Cat.
posted by homunculus at 10:10 PM on April 18, 2008


... how did our ancient ancestors survive and evolve into us?

Because we are humans! We are superior dammit!... Aren't we?

Interesting article, homunculus, thanks.
posted by amyms at 10:34 PM on April 18, 2008


Thumbs.
posted by Cranberry at 12:07 AM on April 19, 2008


Awesome article. I don't know enough about the subject to really judge how plausible all of this is, but it certainly seemed convincing to me.

If a suspended animation technology starts to come to fruition, I'm totally investing in it heavily.

If the technology doesn't bear out, well I was dead in the long wrong anyway. But if it does, then I will be suspended until we discover immortality. Then, due to the huge growth in my investment, when I wake up I will be immortal an have AN UNCOUNTABLE NUMBER OF DOLLARS.

Life will be good.
posted by Alex404 at 12:23 AM on April 19, 2008


then I will be suspended until we discover immortality.

Sorry, there can be only one.
posted by bwg at 12:27 AM on April 19, 2008


Sorry, there can be only one.

And you will be the first I will drown in my Scrooge McDuck Pool of Money.
posted by Alex404 at 12:33 AM on April 19, 2008


In other news: Seeds of Life Came From Space
posted by homunculus at 12:38 AM on April 19, 2008


Biologists Take Evolution Beyond Darwin — Way Beyond

The Complexity of Evolution
posted by homunculus at 12:46 AM on April 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


I had a hard enough time just getting rid of some ants last summer

Did you try hitting them with an asteroid?
posted by DaDaDaDave at 7:45 AM on April 19, 2008 [3 favorites]


But I wonder, why do we dislike the smell of Hydrogen Sulfide?

Because in large doses it is lethal.
posted by furtive at 9:06 AM on April 19, 2008


... how did our ancient ancestors survive and evolve into us?

Well, when one amorphous blob loves another amorphous blob very much...
posted by atbash at 10:58 AM on April 19, 2008


Fascinating but I'm left with two seemingly obvious questions not answered by those articles:

1) What kind of critter exactly were our mammalian ancestors at this time 250 million years ago? Monkeys? Lemurs? Gerbils?

2) The article says CO2 went from 200 ppm to 3,000 ppm, causing all ice on earth to melt, ocean currents to stop, and most life to die off. How do those levels compare to CO2 levels, oh I don't know, 200 years ago, now and projected in 100 years?
posted by msalt at 1:18 PM on April 19, 2008


msalt -- (1) think gerbils, (2) current levels are in the mid-300 ppm range, originally closer to 300 ppm but now closing in on 400 ppm. So this ancient event was very bad even compared to the very worst case scenarios; they had a whole rift of volcanoes pumping out fresh CO2 and killing the very organisms that could fix it with the H2S.
posted by localroger at 2:50 PM on April 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


Probably gerbils. They can survive under extremely harsh conditions.
posted by homunculus at 2:57 PM on April 19, 2008


>> But I wonder, why do we dislike the smell of Hydrogen Sulfide?
> Because in large doses it is lethal.


H2S is lethal in small doses. It's about as toxic as cyanide.
posted by ryanrs at 5:25 PM on April 19, 2008


That was a very interesting article, but the author makes it sound (depending on how you read it) as though the mammals ended up frozen in suspended animation for millions of years as the H2S levels leveled out.

I think it's more like, the mammals simply became more 'cold bloded' as the H2S levels went up, so that they would have more reptile-like metabolism when they needed it. It's kind of annoying how the author conflates species death with individual death as well.
posted by delmoi at 8:38 PM on April 19, 2008


Exactly, delmoi. I was reading about suspended animation for "up to 8 hours", and a bad atmosphere that lasted for literally 100 million years, and it seemed like a bit of a stretch.

And thanks, localroger. I'm very glad to hear that. (not the gerbils, though they're plenty cute, but that we're nowhere near those levels even under Bush's new proposal.)
posted by msalt at 1:14 AM on April 20, 2008


"The little baby Jeebus worked it all out with Adam and Eve, and there was no evolution involved. Read your bible!"

Or, watch Ben Stein's new movie.
posted by UseyurBrain at 7:28 AM on April 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


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