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Tracking Down the First Oxygen Users

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the primordial-home-health-care dept.

Science 109

sciencehabit writes "None of us would be here today if, billions of years ago, a tiny, single-celled organism hadn't started using oxygen to make a living. Researchers don't know exactly when this happened, or why, but a team of scientists has come closer than ever before to finding out. They've identified the earliest known example of aerobic metabolism, the process of using oxygen as fuel. The discovery may even provide clues as to where the oxygen came from in the first place."

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Where the oxygen came from... (4, Insightful)

jeffmeden (135043) | more than 2 years ago | (#38665956)

The discovery may even provide clues as to where the oxygen came from in the first place.

Shouldn't they be looking for the carbon dioxide eaters?

Re:Where the oxygen came from... (5, Informative)

SJHillman (1966756) | more than 2 years ago | (#38666020)

We already know the guys who produced the oxygen (or at least we have a good idea), we're interested in the ones who used it.

First breath! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38666316)

Thank you... Remember to tip the waitress.

Re:Where the oxygen came from... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38666974)

Actually the heterotroph hypothesis theorizes that plants came second, after a ton of Carbon Dioxide was produced, and was opportunistically consumed by autotrophs, which are assumed to have emerged later due to the innate complexity of autotrophic metabolism. But was the carbon dioxide produced by anaerobic organisms like yeast? Meh... it's a hypothesis for a reason. Maybe aerobic heterotrophs pre-date oxygen producing autotrophs... ?

Re:Where the oxygen came from... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38666984)

Simple. The first oxygen users should have low ID's.

Re:Where the oxygen came from... (1)

NatasRevol (731260) | more than 2 years ago | (#38667482)

Like 8?

Re:Where the oxygen came from... (1)

ralphdaugherty (225648) | more than 2 years ago | (#38666208)

My understanding from reading Oxygen by Nick Lane is that atmospheric oxygen at levels high enough to sustain oxygen based metabolism came from plants and trees being buried and not consumed which would have used the oxygen in the consumption. The buried plants and trees became our fossil fuels.

disclaimer: I'm a programmer by profession, just a layman reader in molecular biology.

Re:Where the oxygen came from... (5, Informative)

turbidostato (878842) | more than 2 years ago | (#38666510)

"My understanding ... is that atmospheric oxygen at levels high enough to sustain oxygen based metabolism came from plants and trees"

Your understanding is quite wrong.

By the time there were "plants and trees" the major part of the biosphere already was oxigen dependant.

The change of the atmosphere from reductive to oxidative predates trees by about two billion years -the start of the proterozoic age is marked about 2.4 billion years ago (with a strong spike around the precambric which still predates trees by about 300 million years).

Re:Where the oxygen came from... (3, Interesting)

The Grim Reefer (1162755) | more than 2 years ago | (#38666882)

"My understanding ... is that atmospheric oxygen at levels high enough to sustain oxygen based metabolism came from plants and trees"

Your understanding is quite wrong.

By the time there were "plants and trees" the major part of the biosphere already was oxigen dependant.

The change of the atmosphere from reductive to oxidative predates trees by about two billion years -the start of the proterozoic age is marked about 2.4 billion years ago (with a strong spike around the precambric which still predates trees by about 300 million years).

It's my understanding that cyanobacteria [wikipedia.org] is responsible for initially creating earths oxygen. I can't say I know much about the historical aspect of it. But I used to keep saltwater reef/fish tanks, and it can become a big problem if you do something wrong. It's really nasty slimy algae looking stuff. I used to find in ironic how much many fish keepers despised the stuff, and yet we probably wouldn't be here without it.

Re:Where the oxygen came from... (3, Informative)

djl4570 (801529) | more than 2 years ago | (#38667824)

Cyanobacteria changed the chemistry of the oceans as well. Before oxygen production the oceans contained large quantities of dissolved iron. When oxygen was produced the dissolved iron oxidized and precipitated out as rust. The banded iron formations are a relic of this epoch. It wasn't until the oceans reached equilibrium between oxygen and iron that surplus oxygen was released into the atmosphere.

Re:Where the oxygen came from... (1)

The Grim Reefer (1162755) | more than 2 years ago | (#38668100)

I would guess that cyanobacteria also bound large quantities of iron, phosphorus and nitrogen as it metabolizes all three. I knew of several people who could not get rid of the stuff. In the end they used media that phosphates would bind to.

Re:Where the oxygen came from... (1)

ralphdaugherty (225648) | more than 2 years ago | (#38669104)

I remember reading about this in Oxygen, thanks for the clarification, but as I understood it oxygen is consumed when the plant or bacteria or trees that generated the oxygen with photosynthesis is combusted, and it is primarily the buried plants that are now fossil fuels that established a significant atmospheric level of oxygen that sustains oxygen based metabolism. Other than the buried plants that weren't combusted (decayed, etc) oxygen and carbon dioxide are consumed in photosynthesis and decay and oxygen doesn't accumulate.

Of course I am always learning about this stuff but I considered the the buried matter that is now our fossil fuels making all the oxygen we breathe available to be very interesting and something this hasn't been pointed out publically AFAIK.

Re:Where the oxygen came from... (1)

djl4570 (801529) | more than 2 years ago | (#38671264)

Calcium carbonate or limestone is a much larger carbon repository than fossil fuels. I am working from memory here but IIRC photosynthesis fixes atmospheric carbon dioxide by using sunlight to hydrolyze water. The reactions take the hydrogen from the water to create hydrocarbons and free oxygen. A significant volume of the carbon consumed goes into skeletons and shells. Vast quantities of marine life formed shells made of calcium carbonate which eventually sank to sea floor to become limestone.

Re:Where the oxygen came from... (1)

ralphdaugherty (225648) | more than 2 years ago | (#38671400)

That's interesting, but just to clarify, I mention the fossil fuels not as fixing carbon but as freeing up the oxygen that makes up atmospheric oxygen (about 21 percent of the atmosphere).

This is never mentioned publically and interestingly neither acknowledged nor disputed in this thread.

Re:Where the oxygen came from... (1)

LaruRidi (1971136) | more than 2 years ago | (#38671668)

You can understand carbon storage as a shorthand for "freeing up the oxygen" (I've probably never seen this term used before). From this point of view fossil fuels don't really differ from limestone -- both are geological structures which contain a lot of carbon a store it "indefinitely". Of course the limestone will one day be recycled in the mantle and we burn the fossil fuels like there is no tomorrow.

Re:Where the oxygen came from... (0)

ralphdaugherty (225648) | more than 2 years ago | (#38666980)

I don't understand that. As I read any early atmospheric oxygen combined with iron, and it was only photosynthesis being adapted by plants and trees that emitted a new source of oxygen, and unconsumed plants and trees that left sufficient oxygen for multi-cellular organisms based on an oxygen metabolism, as I understand it that and incorporating mitochondria pretty much required for multi-cellular organisms.

Single cells able to use oxygen in their metabolism, like mitochondria, existed to be adapted but I thought oxygen was pretty scarce until photosynthesis was used widely by plants and animals.

Re:Where the oxygen came from... (1)

Opyros (1153335) | more than 2 years ago | (#38667116)

It was long before there were any animals or trees. Google "oxygen catastrophe" or "great oxygenation event" for how it happened.

Re:Where the oxygen came from... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38667408)

Maybe you should do some Googling yourself.
"Photosynthesis was producing oxygen both before and after the GOE. The difference was that before the GOE, organic matter and dissolved iron chemically captured any free oxygen. The GOE was the point when these minerals became saturated and could not capture any more oxygen. The excess free oxygen started to accumulate in the atmosphere."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Oxygenation_Event [wikipedia.org]
Cyanobacteria was the most likely culprit, since the only thing keeping bacteria out of the animal section is that they are single celled, and though they used photosynthesis they were kept out of the plant car as well, but they are our relatives and the wonder of life is the increasing complexity which led to the somewhat "single celled" thoughts leading to this and other post on Slashdot.

You may now return to your cheetos.

Re:Where the oxygen came from... (1)

ralphdaugherty (225648) | more than 2 years ago | (#38667130)

correction: plants and trees.

And yeah, I saw trees came way later, but whatever was buried and became fossil fuels, plants of some type.

Re:Where the oxygen came from... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38668496)

Cyanobacteria [wikipedia.org] are not considered to be plants any more.

Re:Where the oxygen came from... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38667262)

Plants are not the only things that can perform photosynthesis. In fact even in modern times they are the minority in terms of oxygen production with most oxygen being produced by unicellular marine algae.

So basically plants and animals and trees are worth jack squat. Algae and bacteria that perform photosynthesis is where the real work happens.

Re:Where the oxygen came from... (1)

ArcherB (796902) | more than 2 years ago | (#38668066)

Unable to rename log file. File in use.

Killed hbsend and tried again, worked fine.

Nothing lived outside the oceans until the ozone layer formed. The ozone didn't form until there was enough oxygen in the atmosphere. This oxygen was produced by oceanic algae.

Re:Where the oxygen came from... (1)

g0bshiTe (596213) | more than 2 years ago | (#38668590)

Oxygen began in the oceans not the atmosphere.

Re:Where the oxygen came from... (1)

ralphdaugherty (225648) | more than 2 years ago | (#38669280)

This was downmodded Overrated -1 when it hasn't even received a positive mod rating. What is that, an attempt to hide my comment from view? That's just censorship. If there's something wrong with the comment then say what it is. I don't sEe anything wrong with it other than a typo in last word which I followed up with a post correcting it.

I notice in certain topics (GW, IPV6 for example) we have a lot of censorship going on with people downmodding what they don't like. Why don't we just be honest and call these people and their downmods censors and call it Censored -1.

Re:Where the oxygen came from... (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | more than 2 years ago | (#38673002)

I thought oxygen was pretty scarce until photosynthesis was used widely by plants and animals.

Photosynthesis was happening long long before plants or animals existed. A number of lines of bacteria (neither plant nor animal) had photosynthetic mechanisms, and one of these lines was co-opted by what became plants to provide them with a pre-packaged "black box" of energy and sugar production, given light and environmental CO2. Those bacteria raised the oxygen concentrations in the environment by some tens of thousands-fold, long before any plants or animals existed. Recently, plants came along, particularly on the surface of the land, and added a modest amount to the oxygen production of the surface. These days, plants are responsible for around a third to a half of oxygen production.

I understand it that and incorporating mitochondria pretty much required for multi-cellular organisms.

Mitochondria are essential parts of all (I think ; counter-examples welcome) eukaryotes. That's all plants, all animals, and around the same number of non-plant, non-animal other eukaryotes. Oh, and fungi too ; they're all eukaryotes, closely related to plants and animals, and more distantly related to all the rest of the eukaryotes. All obligately multicellular organisms are multicellular, though some non-eukaryotes can be opportunistically multicellular.

Or to put it in short - biology is a lot more varied than the broad brush that you may have had painted in school. Much, much more varied.

Re:Where the oxygen came from... (1)

ralphdaugherty (225648) | more than 2 years ago | (#38675590)

Thanks for the info, but I didn't learn this in school, I am undertaking extensive readings in molecular biology. I learned this in Oxygen by Nick Lane, and I think the points I made about what established the oxygen levels to sustain multiicellular organisms is correct. It was buried undecayed plants that established sufficient oxygen (GT 15 percent) to sustain organisms according to what I read. I find that fossil fuel matter made breathing possible to be fascinating and it is not only not taught in schools, it is virtually unaddressed including all who replied to me in this thread.

Re:Where the oxygen came from... (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | more than 2 years ago | (#38683622)

I've definitely read stuff by Nick Lane, and if I could access Amazon here, I'd be able to find if "Oxygen" is still on my wishlist, or if I'd actually read it. It's certainly been under consideration.

I have a suspicion that you've been misunderstanding something, but since I don't recall reading Lane's book, I think I'd better wait until I have read it.

Question (relevant) : are you familiar with Margulis' well-accepted theory of the origin of complex unicellular organisms by endosymbiosis between previously free-living organisms.

Re:Where the oxygen came from... (2)

na1led (1030470) | more than 2 years ago | (#38667406)

It all happend about 6,000 years ago. God spit out Air, Plants, Animals, and Humans, all at once, and you can't convince me otherwise!

Re:Where the oxygen came from... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38667960)

Wow, you're a fucking moron. He did it over the course of six days, you tool.

Re:Where the oxygen came from... (1)

Marble68 (746305) | more than 2 years ago | (#38666252)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photosynthesis [wikipedia.org]

  process that converts carbon dioxide into organic compounds, especially sugars, using the energy from sunlight.

Re:Where the oxygen came from... (2)

Anne_Nonymous (313852) | more than 2 years ago | (#38666300)

Look hard enough and you'll find an ancient civilization who built forests of artificial CO2 sequestering trees [slashdot.org] .

Re:Where the oxygen came from... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38667628)

The President of Preprotozoa speaking last night on nationwide television has announced an escalation of the War on Oxygen.

"We will not rest until the scourge of oxygen has been eradicated from our great nation", declared the President. "Oxygen addicts are a blight on the moral fabric of our country and we will do everything we can to educate our young on the evils of this toxic drug. My fellow Preprotozoans, I say to you that I will not rest until we have put the oxygen producers out of business and ended the practice of oxygen consumption once and for all!"

Re:Where the oxygen came from... (1)

g0bshiTe (596213) | more than 2 years ago | (#38668562)

I thought stromatolites were the first.

Re:Where the oxygen came from... (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | more than 2 years ago | (#38672868)

Shouldn't they be looking for the carbon dioxide eaters?

Well, if you want to find the first organisms that produced oxygen from carbon dioxide, then that might be a useful route to take. But if it turns out that the first oxygen producers did it by consuming something other than carbon dioxide, then you'd be answering the wrong question.

Indeed, if you'd read TFA, you'd realise that they were very specifically looking at molecular evidence for the origin of the ability to produce oxygen by digesting hydrogen peroxide in the environment. Which is ... interesting.

It's interesting if it's true - I'm less than convinced, and I don't have access to the original paper to check it - because it suggests that some at least of the molecular tricks for handling one very toxic compound (oxygen) developed from techniques developed for handling one extremely toxic environmentally available compound (hydrogen peroxide). Developing a technique for turning an extremely toxic environmental pollutant into a merely very toxic environmental pollutant will have an energetic and evolutionary cost, but could give a net benefit to the organism. Then, as techniques develop to further detoxify that excreted pollutant, an energy source is found, in an organism that is "pre-adapted" to have appropriate biochemical tools to handle the nasty pollutant.

Hmmm, interesting.

But carbon dioxide fixation is not by any means the only way to produce oxygen.

That's an interesting piece of work.

Oxidizer, not fuel (5, Informative)

Un pobre guey (593801) | more than 2 years ago | (#38665970)

Oxygen is not the fuel. It is the oxidant to the fuel to release energy.

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (5, Insightful)

Aguazul (620868) | more than 2 years ago | (#38666058)

In a hydrocarbon atmosphere, you can burn oxygen. All our definitions are oriented around our oxygen-based atmosphere. I'm sure we'd call oxygen 'fuel' if we lived in a hydrocarbon atmosphere and oxygen was the scarcer material.

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (2)

Em Adespoton (792954) | more than 2 years ago | (#38666178)

After all, no matter how you present it, it's just a chemical reaction: 2 molecules and some energy. "Fuel" and "fire" and "burn" are all just lies to children. Either that, or Iron is also a "fuel" with an end result of "rust" ash. Low "burning" temperature, and low heat output, as it doesn't take much for Iron to react with oxygen.

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (2)

idontgno (624372) | more than 2 years ago | (#38666324)

Interesting point. On a geologic timescale, "rust" is a flash fire.

Still, colloquial English words are based on current human experience of time and matter. Even an ember flashing to fire in a pure-oxygen atmosphere, the ember is considered fuel, even if it's outmassed by the oxygen available for the reaction.

Also, from a chemical perspective, in most chemical reactions involving oxygen, oxygen is the oxidizing agent and the other element or compound is the reducing agent. (Maybe all? I can't think of any redox reactions with oxygen as the reducer, but chemistry was decades ago.)

So, in summary: the distinction between fuel and oxygen can't be inverted.

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (5, Interesting)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38667046)

Oxygen is the most aggressively electronegative element after Fluorine. (I think that Neon might be [wikipedia.org] even more aggressive if you could ionize it usefully.) I had a colourful mnemonic for this in second-year organic chemistry that revolved around bitches and gimps, but the take-home message is that Chlorine robs Nitrogen, and Oxygen wipes out everything but good ol' Fluorine. For related reasons, fluorine becomes a source of face-melting death in hydrogen-bonded form.

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38667688)

mod this shit up.

or face face-melting death in the form of hydrogen-bonded fluorine.

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | more than 2 years ago | (#38673174)

For related reasons, fluorine becomes a source of face-melting death in hydrogen-bonded form.

Meh.

This blog may give you a warm and cuddly feeling about good ol' fluorine : Sand Won't Save You This Time [corante.com]

For a taste :

It is hypergolic with every known fuel, and so rapidly hypergolic that no ignition delay has ever been measured. It is also hypergolic with such things as cloth, wood, and test engineers, not to mention asbestos, sand, and water - with which it reacts explosively.

If you don't know what "hypergolic" means, you should. Well, you used "hydrogen-bonded" above in a reasonable place, so you probably know already.

Put your coffee down before following the link.
Really.

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38681524)

A friend of mine was working in an organic chemistry lab with a particularly cavalier graduate student once who had the nerve to open a vial of triflic acid [wikipedia.org] outside of the fume hood. It began protonating the air around it and gave them both nosebleeds. (Said graduate student was ejected shortly after he got his PhD, for an unrelated reason.)

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | more than 2 years ago | (#38683574)

"Triflic" ... well, you've managed the uncommon by stumping me. That's one I've never heard of, at least by that name. [follows link] Trifluoromethanesulphonic acid. Ohh, sounds good already.

"dangerously exothermic."

Can you set that to music .... oh no, it's all right, I hear it's siren song.

Yes, on a scale of zero to "no" ... well, it's not something I'd keep under the kitchen sink with children around. Or cats. Or most adults, to be honest. Me included.

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#38666380)

Either that, or Iron is also a "fuel" with an end result of "rust" ash. Low "burning" temperature, and low heat output, as it doesn't take much for Iron to react with oxygen.

Iron is a fuel and you can burn it in the usual sense [wikipedia.org] when temperatures get hot enough (along with good air circulation).

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (1)

Phaedrus420 (860578) | more than 2 years ago | (#38668352)

In fact, it's done every day. [wikipedia.org]

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (1)

nitehawk214 (222219) | more than 2 years ago | (#38666450)

And Iron [wikipedia.org] is an amazingly reactive [youtube.com] fuel if you get it hot enough in the right concentrations.

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (1)

Archangel Michael (180766) | more than 2 years ago | (#38666522)

I don't know about you, but I've actually lit "iron" on fire. Quite easy if you have the right kind. Go get some Steel Wool and use a battery pack attach positive to one side, and negative to another and start chanting "Burn Baby Burn" ...

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 2 years ago | (#38666932)

battery sounds fun but a match will do.

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (1)

NEDHead (1651195) | more than 2 years ago | (#38666936)

It is called a flashbulb, for those under 40 years old.

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38667356)

Flashbulbs used magnesium, not iron.

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38667586)

Don't bother if there isn't an icon for it they won't use it anyway.

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (1)

tom17 (659054) | more than 2 years ago | (#38667672)

That is Magnesium, my friend.

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (1)

NEDHead (1651195) | more than 2 years ago | (#38670786)

Yes, but it was really the principle I was going for. Other metals have also been used to similar effect.

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | more than 2 years ago | (#38673236)

Specifically, IIRC, zirconium.

Add 5 feet of string at night! (1)

drainbramage (588291) | more than 2 years ago | (#38667362)

Try this some evening or in a darkened room (not your room):
Put a little weight on the end of a string and attach 0000 steel wool to it.
Light the steel wool, grab the other end of the string and swing it in a circle.

The smoldering steel wool becomes much more interesting.

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (4, Informative)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 2 years ago | (#38666884)

"Fuel" and "fire" and "burn" are all just lies to children.

Not lies to children, but the obvious. Of course, what may seem obvious often isn't ("the world is flat"). You and I know that if you combine a piece of wood and oxygen, both are converted, but you have to know how it works first. But at any rate, "fire" is a synonym of "oxidation". Fire is what you get when you combine a combustable material, oxygen, and heat. It's real, it's no lie. The combustable material is the fuel, oxygen is the oxident, and "burn" is the conversion of the fuel and oxygen to a different form. It's semantics, not lies.

Either that, or Iron is also a "fuel" with an end result of "rust" ash.

Actually, rust is steel's ashes, and you can make steel burn quite fast of you get it hot enough; ask any blacksmith. You can make sparklers out of pieces of wire coat hangers or bailing wire, coated with saltpeter mixed with flour or sugar. The sparkles on any sparkler you buy at a fireworks stand is the steel's flames, and that's exactly what you see if you put a thin piece of steel in a forge with the bellows going. Take the steel out of the fire and it sparkles like a sparkler, and leaves rust behind.

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 2 years ago | (#38668578)

Fire is what you get when you combine a combustable material, oxygen, and heat. It's real, it's no lie. The combustable material is the fuel, oxygen is the oxident, and "burn" is the conversion of the fuel and oxygen to a different form. It's semantics, not lies.

I agree, it's not lies. But we also have to remember that it's still just semantics. There's no reason not to consider oxygen the fuel and carbohydrates the reducing agent.

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38671362)

Actually, the term "reducing agent" is a chemical term for the chemical that is giving up electrons. Carbohydrates would still be the reducing agent. It just so happens that oxygen would be the oxidizer as well as the recipient of those electrons. As for the term "fuel", that could be attributed to both substances simultaneously. We would refer to a rocket with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen tanks as having fuel tanks for the propulsion of the rocket. Both types of tanks are considered fuel. Both combined would create the reaction necessary to generate the force to propel the rocket.

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | more than 2 years ago | (#38666210)

All our definitions are oriented around our nitrogen-based atmosphere.

FTFY. [noaa.gov]

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | more than 2 years ago | (#38666350)

What a wonderful new piece of knowledge! This vacuum-based Universe we're living in never ceases to amaze me!

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38668938)

I have changed my local HTTP server's port from 8080 to 6502. Long live the CPU wars!

Yeah? Well, I changed mine to Z80! Top that!

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#38666420)

All our definitions are oriented around our oxygen-based atmosphere.

FTFY.

FTFY. One would not call a bottle of hydrochloric acid "water" merely because water is the largest by mass component.

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (1)

jdgeorge (18767) | more than 2 years ago | (#38666562)

All our definitions are oriented around our oxygen-based atmosphere.

FTFY.

FTFY. One would not call a bottle of hydrochloric acid "water" merely because water is the largest by mass component.

Quite right. One would instead call a bottle of a hydrochloric acid solution "water-based" because water is the solvent, and also probably the largest component by number of molecules, mass, and volume.

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#38668358)

One would instead call a bottle of a hydrochloric acid solution "water-based" because water is the solvent, and also probably the largest component by number of molecules, mass, and volume.

No. They might call it "solution of hydrogen chloride (HCl) in water" [wikipedia.org] , but they won't call it "water-based", which by definition means that the foundation of the thing is water, because it isn't.

When I googled for "water-based", I got page upon page of hits for things like water-based stains and pigments. That is, substances that could be dissolved in a choice of fluids such as water, alcohol, and oils.

For any life exposed to atmosphere, the key property of Earth's atmosphere is that it has large quantities of oxygen. Even if that life doesn't use oxygen (say it's a form of lichen), it still has to deal with this strongly oxidizing environment. The chemical reactivity of oxygen dominates any other chemical property of the atmosphere as far as biology is concerned. That's why we say the atmosphere is "oxygen-based" even though there's more nitrogen in it.

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (1)

russotto (537200) | more than 2 years ago | (#38668478)

No. They might call it "solution of hydrogen chloride (HCl) in water", but they won't call it "water-based", which by definition means that the foundation of the thing is water, because it isn't.

When I googled for "water-based", I got page upon page of hits for things like water-based stains and pigments. That is, substances that could be dissolved in a choice of fluids such as water, alcohol, and oils.

And a hydrochloric acid solution is a substance (anhydrous hydrogen chloride, a gas) dissolved in water.

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (3, Interesting)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | more than 2 years ago | (#38666298)

In a hydrocarbon atmosphere, you can burn oxygen. All our definitions are oriented around our oxygen-based atmosphere. I'm sure we'd call oxygen 'fuel' if we lived in a hydrocarbon atmosphere and oxygen was the scarcer material.

Which made a wonderful plot for Isaac Asimov's lovable The Dust of Death [wikipedia.org] :) You can tell the guy was a chemist. ;-)

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 2 years ago | (#38666736)

I could have sworn I'd read Asimov's Mysteries, but I don't remember that story. Guess I'll have to take a trip to the library Saturday. Too bad our corporate-bought copyright extensions have made it so a fifty year old story written by a dead man can't be published in the internet.

And, Asimov got his PhD in biochemistry. He taught (a little) at Boston University, and also did cancer research there.

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (4, Informative)

Megahard (1053072) | more than 2 years ago | (#38666338)

While "oxidation" is lexically derived from oxygen, there's a specific chemical definition for oxidation, namely the loss of electrons. LEO GER is the acronym beginning chemists learn. So while you can play around with the words the chemistry is well-defined. Oxygen is the oxidant because it transfers elections to the reductant or fuel or whatever you want to call it.

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38666502)

We were taught OIL RIG, which I think is easier.

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (1)

Un pobre guey (593801) | more than 2 years ago | (#38667626)

Thank you!

In a hydrocarbon atmosphere, you can burn oxygen. All our definitions are oriented around our oxygen-based atmosphere. I'm sure we'd call oxygen 'fuel' if we lived in a hydrocarbon atmosphere and oxygen was the scarcer material.

Sheesh. Not many chemists here on slashdot, it seems.

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38667790)

The definitions of 'burning' and 'fuel' were established long before anyone knew about electrons. Scientists decided, retroactively, what these things meant. Scientists can't just change established definitions of words because they don't match some technical detail of how things really work.

Fuel is needed to make fire. It is the 'stuff' that is consumed by fire. Oxygen, wood and gasoline are all fuel.

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | more than 2 years ago | (#38673328)

there's a specific chemical definition for oxidation, namely the loss of electrons. LEO GER is the acronym beginning chemists learn.

"OIL RIG" for me. Oxidation Is Loss ; Reduction Is Gain.

What is a Ger, and why would Leo have one? (partial answer : a Mongolian felt hut)

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 2 years ago | (#38666500)

In a hydrocarbon atmosphere, you can burn oxygen. All our definitions are oriented around our oxygen-based atmosphere. I'm sure we'd call oxygen 'fuel' if we lived in a hydrocarbon atmosphere and oxygen was the scarcer material.

No, it would still be the hydrocarbons oxidising, not the oxygen hydrocarbonizing. Add oxygen and heat to any combustable material and it burns. What can you add hydrocarbons with to make it burn, except oxygen?

Fire is the result of mixing oxygen with anything flammable. Nothing but oxygen makes fire afaik (if I'm wrong I hope a physicist or chemist here will correct me).

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (2)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 2 years ago | (#38667008)

no chemistry in you background, I take it. there are plenty of other gases that support combustion, fluorine is one. You could burn fluorine on your hydrocarbon atmosphere planet, or hydrocarbons on a fluorine atmosphere planet. You might be interested to know a rocket with highest specific impulse burns lithium and fluorine. You can make fire with many, many things and not have a molecule of oxygen in sight.

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 2 years ago | (#38667074)

to clarify, that's of the *chemical* rockets

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (1)

CtownNighrider (1443513) | more than 2 years ago | (#38677358)

Would a rocket with fluorine and francium (the element in the bottom left hand corner) have a higher specific impulse?

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 2 years ago | (#38667174)

As someone points out, oxygen is the oxidant because it supplies the electrons for the reaction (the term "oxidant" is derived from the fact that oxygen was the first chemical that we understood to havethis function). The "fuel" is the chemical that releases energy in the reaction. Hydrocarbons release significantly more energy than oxygen molecules. So, even in a hydrocarbon atmosphere, hydrocarbons would be the fuel as the term is used in English. Of course, if we lived in a hydrocarbon atmosphere we might have a significantly different perspective on the reactions and not consider the source of energy to be all that significant at early stages of language formation.

Re:Oxidizer, not fuel (1)

thrich81 (1357561) | more than 2 years ago | (#38667634)

The discussion here has the electron donors turned around. The "oxidant" such as oxygen takes the electrons from the reducing agent. Oxygen has 6 electrons in its outer shell and needs only 2 more to have a completely full outer shell, thus it has a strong attraction for those 2 more electrons and takes them from less electropositive elements such as metals. You sound like you know what you are talking about so this is probably just to point out a typo, but I post it to prevent confusion on the thread... I realize that covalent bonding such as in CO2 is a bit more complicated, but O is still considered the oxidizer there.

unfortunate (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38666086)

It's too bad that Strom Thurman died a few years ago. We could have just asked him.

Suggested uses of the research (0)

babboo65 (1437157) | more than 2 years ago | (#38666164)

Will this research also help us eliminate the waste of oxygen? If so I have a couple of recommendations to offer . . .

oddly enough they are also single-celled organisms.

Re:Suggested uses of the research (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#38666214)

Would those recommendation be babboo and babboo1 to 64?

Re:Suggested uses of the research (1)

babboo65 (1437157) | more than 2 years ago | (#38668270)

Nah - they're okay (i think)

I am sure... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38666200)

that it will not be hard for them to figure out who 1st started watching the Oxygen channel.

Re:I am sure... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38666366)

I think they're still waiting for someone...

Doxygen? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38666234)

I read "Tracking down the first doxygen users".

or oXygen? (1)

Creosote (33182) | more than 2 years ago | (#38667162)

As some who wrangles XML on a daily basis, my first thought was the oXygen XML software program (http://www.oxygenxml.com/). Which I have in fact been using since one of the earliest releases.

I'm glad someone is looking into this (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38666390)

We cannot afford to have all of the oxygen used.

To protect the oxygen, there should be a lock on the atmosphere with a good combination. Not some stupid combination that some idiot would use for their luggage.

Re:I'm glad someone is looking into this (1, Funny)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 2 years ago | (#38667038)

especially since oxygen is a component of the most powerful greenhouse gas on earth, water. And we can't model long term water content, too variable and complicated. We don't really know the contribution of carbon dioxide to the total greenhouse effect (amazing fact), estimated to be 9 to 32%. but the "climatogists" of course wail about the easier one to model.

Re:I'm glad someone is looking into this (1)

stevelinton (4044) | more than 2 years ago | (#38667892)

This is totally offtopic, but the thing about water is that it moves in and out of the atmosphere quickly. Water level in the atmosphere is pretty much determined by temperature and perhaps the distribution of exposed ocean area. The result is a massive positive feedback. If something else warms the atmosphere and oceans, the water vapour level rises, adding to the warming, and vice versa. Modern models take full account of this. Historically, water surface temperatures can be determined from the oxygen isotope ratios in snow.

At some levels... (4, Interesting)

forkfail (228161) | more than 2 years ago | (#38666426)

... the human race shares certain critical traits with these little guys.

Like them, we're creating a cataclysmic event in the biosphere that will probably wipe ourselves out, but allow the next generation of life to thrive.

Unlike them, we out to be able to mitigate the impact of our presence, but while we're smart enough to see what we are doing, we don't have the fortitude to change our ways.

Wasn't it SGI? (1)

ThorGod (456163) | more than 2 years ago | (#38666472)

I could be wrong here, but I believe the Oxygen was an SGI box.

Anyone correct me? ...oh, wait.

First Oxygen users... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38666986)

IMHO it was KDE.

Absolute certainty in the unknown (0)

jaydge (720092) | more than 2 years ago | (#38667508)

"Researchers don't know exactly when this happened, or why" But yet the scientific establishment is 100% sure it DID happen - absolute, hands-down, undisputable fact, right? Such dogma isn't science, it's religion.

Re:Absolute certainty in the unknown (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38668042)

No, it's science, we really do know it happened for sure. You are referring to the fact that life went to aerobic from anaerobic. Well, there is plenty of aerobic life right now, we know that for sure. So that's the second part. There is also plenty of evidence that life started out anaerobic. Put 2 and 2 together, evidence of life, evidence of no oxygen, means life existed without oxygen, had to be anaerobic.

Re:Absolute certainty in the unknown (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | more than 2 years ago | (#38673472)

Step by step,

1- Oxygen is used by some organisms now.
2- Time exists.
3- Either (molecular) oxygen has been used by organisms since the first moment of time, in which case there is a possible "dead heat" between two (or possibly more) individual organisms for the first one to have been carrying out a chemical reaction involving (molecular) oxygen. At which point you get into uninformative argumentation about how finely you can divide time, and the quality of your measurement. You can waste as much time on that debate as you like.
3a- OR, there was a time in the past when no organisms used molecular oxygen, and you can have a meaningful debate over which class of organism was the first to start using molecular oxygen.

To illuminate the choice in step 3, we have good evidence that the universe was formed without oxygen (atomic or molecular), so there was a time and a place where atomic oxygen first formed, and a time and place where molecular oxygen first formed. Equally (unless you're going to postulate that life has existed for the entire duration of the universe), there was a time and a place where life first originated. Since life and oxygen now co-exist in at least one part of the universe ( /self : inhales) then there must have been a time and a place where life and (molecular) oxygen first came into contact, and also a time and place where life first started to make significant use of reactions involving molecular oxygen.

I think I've just given a solid reason for the first (molecular) oxygen-using organisms to have had a time and place of existence, using logic, not dogma.

Are you some sort of god-squaddie idiot? You have the stink of one.

Some of these dates are not correct (0)

bgman (1059448) | more than 2 years ago | (#38667678)

A careful reading of the Bible reveals that creation occurred on October 23, 4004 BC. Any dates preceding that creation are meaningless.

Re:Some of these dates are not correct (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38668182)

A careful reading of the Bible reveals that it is inconsistent, leading to the conclusion that much of it is untrue.

Re:Some of these dates are not correct (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38668380)

A careful reading of the GP post reveals that YHBT. Don't feed them in the future.

Destroy oxygen polluters before it is too late! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38668336)

Damned photosynthetic, oxygen-producing idiots spoiling almost the entire Earth with their pollution. We aught to wipe them out before they take over and lead to even worse problems, like creatures that eat us and use the oxygen as fuel.

Signed,

The Union of Concerned Archaean [wikipedia.org] Scientists

Why it happened? The answer is ... (1)

Ihlosi (895663) | more than 2 years ago | (#38671678)

... evolution. That wasn't all that hard, was it?

Small errors leads to metabolisms that weren't just more resistant to oxygen (remember that it's a nasty poison to anything that's not used to it), but that could acutally use it to generate energy (in fact, more efficiently than by anaerobic metabolism). That opened up whole new habitats. Exponential growth ensues.

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