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Lack of Molybdenum May Have Delayed Life on Earth

samzenpus posted more than 6 years ago | from the we-would-have-started-sooner-but dept.

Earth 89

esocid writes "Scientists from around the world have reconstructed changes in Earth's ancient ocean chemistry during a broad sweep of geological time, from about 2.5 to 0.5 billion years ago. They have discovered that a deficiency of oxygen and the heavy metal molybdenum in the ancient deep ocean may have delayed the evolution of animal life on Earth for nearly 2 billion years. Bacteria cannot fix nitrogen efficiently when they are deprived of molybdenum. And if bacteria can't fix nitrogen fast enough, then eukaryotes — a kind of organism that includes plants, pachyderms and people — are in trouble because eukaryotes cannot fix nitrogen themselves at all. Ariel Anbar, a co-author of the research of Arizona State University, stated that "eukaryotes depend on bacteria having an easy enough time fixing nitrogen that there's enough to go around. So if bacteria were struggling to get enough molybdenum, there probably wouldn't have been enough fixed nitrogen for eukaryotes to flourish.""

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Excitement (0, Offtopic)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 6 years ago | (#22876330)

Lack of oil might have delayed the creation of the automobile too.

Or maybe, just maybe, the automobile was invented because there was a ready supply of oil.

Re:Excitement (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 6 years ago | (#22876474)

Oddly enough, none of the articles on nitrogen fixation even mention moly....
Whats that all about?

Re:Excitement (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22876838)

i like pussy.

Re:Excitement (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22880362)

Well, self-esteem is always essential.

Re:Excitement (3, Informative)

mikael (484) | more than 6 years ago | (#22877172)

Not necessarily. The use of bitumen/tar was documented in biblical times [ourfatherlutheran.net] . The Romans were thought to have used coal for metalwork [wiganarchsoc.co.uk] . A Greek by the name of Heronas, developed a prototype steam engine. [e-telescope.gr] They might have advanced faster technologically, if they weren't afraid of making the slaves unemployed [mlahanas.de]

You can also read the history of the combustion engine [about.com] . The first combustion engines were based on gunpowder, then coal powered steam engines, coal gas, and finally petroleum. At the same time, engineers experimented with one stroke, two stroke and four stroke engines with vertical and V slant pistons.

Re:Excitement (2, Interesting)

Brian Gordon (987471) | more than 6 years ago | (#22877266)

It's the 1910s. Where do you get a high-energy-density fuel that's readily available? Certainly not from corn; chemistry was just accepting the Rutherford model, they're not exactly modern chemists.

model T (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22878956)

never send a chemist to a gearhead discussion, it's like jack knife vs pistol

Model T, 1909-27 designed to run on corn and hemp ethanol (Henry really disliked petroleum fuels, thought they were dirty and disgusting, liked nice clean and clear corn squeezings better), prohibition basically finished off ethanol as a fuel, although it was semi popular up until then, albeit as a blend with regular gasoline, already the petroleum exploiters were pushing their way in to total control. Incidentally, later on he also championed hemp for plastic bodies on cars instead of sheet metal. Once again planned obsolescence and the lobbying of some big corporations killed off the "tough as nails and no rust" idea.

The dude was generations ahead of his time really on the "big picture" side of things. Also helped bring about a serious urban middle class with his "pay your workers well, enough so they can afford the products they make", a formula that worked quite well until the current crop of wall street snakeoil salesmen decided that outsourcing out of their own nation-screwing over all their own potential customers- was a better idea. Pretty funny to watch them try to explain what is going on now with their credit and derivatives gambling losses..no way can anyone honest call them "investments"...

Re:model T (2, Interesting)

kesuki (321456) | more than 6 years ago | (#22889540)

it was my understanding that henry ford opted to use petroleum over a 'design that would have used peanut oil' much like our modern diesel engines... while it may be true that the model t could run on corn fuel, remember that at that time they could easily use coal or wood to make the corn ethanol, today we're using natural gas to make corn ethanol, and that resource won't last forever...

cheap energy won't die completely for another hundred years, but cheap oil is already coming to an end... the most likely situation is that we will find ways of turning vast tracks of land into genuine cheap biofuels... the roman empire collapsed when they couldn't grow enough wheat to feed everyone even with slavery and large armies... the question is if the 'modern' world can survive when all our energy has to come from plants, and animals, and the associated costs related to growing enough plants and animals.

it's questionable if humans can manage to maintain large empires the likes of the modern world with 'expensive' bio-energy. after all we can't even stop India from turning into a desert from the mass deforestation going on there.

75% of India is undergoing desertification similar to what privative man did to the middle-east with plows and wheat.

sad really... brazil from all the deforestation well, the amazon river is down 100 feet in places... and rain forests around the world (except in costa rica, which has a healthy tourism industry) are being felled for farms, for fuel, or purely for greed for the hardwoods and softwoods they can grow there. and the farms don't replace the lost precipitation those rain forests used to reciprocate with, while allowing the ground to absorb more of the rain because of the foliage of an old growth or even a new growth forest.

humans would probably turn the whole world to desert if they could, and cutting down all the forests is a good first start for that happening, as is evidenced by india's desertification.

Re:Excitement (3, Informative)

sm62704 (957197) | more than 6 years ago | (#22880484)

The Romans were thought to have used coal for metalwork

I didn't know that there was any other way besides coal/coke for the ancients to have done blacksmithing, although wikipedia says it can be done with charcoal. I have no idea how charcoal would work. The Wikipedia article isn't quite accurate:

Blacksmiths work by heating pieces of wrought iron or steel in a forge until the metal becomes soft enough to be shaped with hand tools, such as a hammer and chisel. Heating is accomplished by the use of a forge fueled by propane, natural gas, coal, charcoal, or coke.
You can't blacksmith using just coal; the coal is turned to coke [wikipedia.org] by oxygenating it with a blower, and pouring water on it. At least that's what they taught in my college blacksmithing class. I can't remember the fellow's name, unfortunately, but he was 72 at the time and travelled to different universities teaching his dying art to the younger generation. This was some time in the late 1970s. He'd smithed Gerald Ford's wrought iron fence, at the time of the class Carter was president.

I really should build a forge.

I'm a blacksmith (1)

jeephistorian (746362) | more than 6 years ago | (#22893438)

Hello,

I am a blacksmith. I use straight coal for my forging. The act of burning the coal transforms the coal around it into coke. This coke is what I then move into the fire. The water he was using was to keep the fire from expanding (probably had a poor fire pot or a side draft forge). Now I do use special coal. Metallurgical grade coal burns hotter and cleaner than heating coal.

As for using other fuels. I've successfully used charcoal in my forge. In fact charcoal has been used longer than coal. Charcoal was used exclusively in the production of iron and steel until the industrial revolution created a need for lower quality coal produced iron. Charcoal is (was) made by cooking wood until all of the non-carbon impurities are baked off leaving a very clean burning solid. This was done historically my building mounds of wood with a small fire at the center. They would them cover this with grass and dirt to keep oxygen from getting to the fire and causing the carbon to burn. These would be tended for days until the wood had completely charred.

Today's blacksmiths use gas forges and coal forges because they are easier to work with and procuring supplies is easier. Oh, and blacksmithing isn't a dying art. Don't let anybody tell you that it is. I know of several hundred blacksmiths in central Virginia alone. I live 100 yards from a fully functional blacksmith shop (though I don't work there, I often hang out there). There are at least four other studios in town. Hobby blacksmiths (like I have become since leaving the field and entering IT) are everywhere. Just search for blacksmith guilds and you'll see they are all over the place.

Later!

Re:I'm a blacksmith (1)

sm62704 (957197) | more than 6 years ago | (#22894006)

Thank you for that. The class was in the late 1970s, the gentleman teaching it was afraid the craft was dying and was teaching as many people as possible. Perhaps it means he succeeded?

Re:I'm a blacksmith (1)

jeephistorian (746362) | more than 6 years ago | (#22894384)

No problem. I encourage you to build that forge you spoke of. Depending on your location, coal, gas or even charcoal and coke are readily available. A simple side draft forge is easily made by placing a pipe across a metal bowl with a supply of air at the other end. Best to you!

I don't know if you're in America or even east coast, but if you are, I highly recommend the http://www.folkschool.org/ [folkschool.org] John Campbell School for solid introduction to blacksmithing.

Re:Excitement (1)

skiingyac (262641) | more than 6 years ago | (#22881268)

Actually, some Model T's could run on ethanol so farmers could make fuel themselves.

terraforming and other things (4, Interesting)

pintpusher (854001) | more than 6 years ago | (#22876364)

This casts an interesting light on the idea of terraforming. There's often been the idea that we could just introduce plants into a CO2 rich environment and in pretty short order we'd have a breathable atmosphere. Apparently that may not be the case. Without an oxygen rich environment to free the molybdenum, there's no significant nitrogen fixation and thus those plants are going to be hurting pretty quickly.

Also, this makes me wonder what those eukaryotes were doing for the first 2 billion years. Were they undergoing all sorts of genetic mutations that primed them for takeover once the situation changed? IOW, I wonder what would have happened if this little molybdenum problem had resolved earlier. Would the eukaryotes continued to flounder (pun!) because of a lack of genetic diversity? Or would they have just as rapidly developed putting the current day well into the cockroaches-rule-the-earth epoch?

Re:terraforming and other things (1)

tgd (2822) | more than 6 years ago | (#22876386)

For what its worth, I don't think there's often that idea among plant biologists.

Re:terraforming and other things (1)

pintpusher (854001) | more than 6 years ago | (#22876496)

I'm sure you're right. I'm speaking more about my more-or-less common man image of terraforming... at some point natural processes take over and the whole "just works". But the need for free molybdenum to support nitrogen fixing sort of throws a monkey-wrench in that idea.

Re:terraforming and other things (3, Insightful)

tgd (2822) | more than 6 years ago | (#22876638)

Well, I'm no biologist but right off the cuff I think there are some problems with this "theory"... it makes an assumption that in an environment without fixed nitrogen that complex life would not have evolved to either not need it or to do it itself. It also assumes that the availability of molybdenum is required to fix nitrogen.

The fact that eukareotes did not evolve it doesn't mean they couldn't have -- it just means that their environment they evolved in didn't need that ability, likely because prokaryotes evolved it already. (Or they didn't actually originally need it -- which may make more sense because if one assumes that that evolution was necessary for eukaryotes, and they evolved from prokaryotes, then how did they *lose* that ability?)

Again, not a biologist but the critical reader in me gets a "I have a hammer, so everything is a nail" vibe from this theory.

Re:terraforming and other things (1)

pintpusher (854001) | more than 6 years ago | (#22876922)

Well, I'm no biologist but right off the cuff I think there are some problems with this "theory"... it makes an assumption that in an environment without fixed nitrogen that complex life would not have evolved to either not need it or to do it itself. It also assumes that the availability of molybdenum is required to fix nitrogen.
I'm no biologist either... all the more reason for us to get really nasty and get a right proper flamefest going!! ;-P

So, there are certain rules to the chemistry that underly biology and (really really speculating here... in fact this whole thing is just speculation on my part, sort of a beer-guzzling approach to science discussion) maybe it's possible that one really *does* need molybdenum to fix nitrogen with any efficiency. That gives evolving life two choices (it seems I'm repeating you here)--

1. struggle weakly for a long time eeking out an existence working really hard to fix nitrogen until something "magical" happens like one of your cousins start farting out oxygen and changes the ball game, or

2. sidestep the whole issue and ignore nitrogen and come up with something else.

Based on what we know so far, the second option doesn't seem all that viable, but you're right, it's an assumption made based on a lack of knowledge of other life forms.

The fact that eukareotes did not evolve it doesn't mean they couldn't have -- it just means that their environment they evolved in didn't need that ability, likely because prokaryotes evolved it already. (Or they didn't actually originally need it -- which may make more sense because if one assumes that that evolution was necessary for eukaryotes, and they evolved from prokaryotes, then how did they *lose* that ability?)
Sure, maybe they could have evolved it, or maybe they even did, in that they evolved from prokaryotes, but some prokaryotes were *way* better at it, so they just feasted on the excess and gave up their own production of it. But what I got from a light reading of TFA, the eukaryotes were hanging around for a long time doing not much of anything we know of until the molybdenum levels exceeded some threshold and bacteria started cranking out nitrogen. Given 2 billion years of eukaryote life *before* this event, it seems that maybe there isn't a great way to side-step the nitrogen/molybdenum issue, otherwise they'd have stumbled upon it. So here's an idea, maybe these bacteria were floating around fixing nitrogen the whole time, just so inefficiently that there was no extra -- it was limited by the available molybdenum. The eukaryotes were wandering around looking for something interesting to do, but since there was no source of nitrogen, most of them didn't bother with it, though some of them did. The one's who cared about nitrogen didn't get very far because their wasn't enough of it to go around. The ones who didn't care about it didn't get very far because it turns out you can't get very far without nitrogen. That gives a situation primed for rapid change once nitrogen becomes more available. And that's all rampant speculation just for the sake of speculation.

So what I was wondering about.. did the eukaryotes develop significant genetic diversity during this period such that they were ready to go when the nitrogen came on the scene? Were there lots of different chunks of genetic code floating around in the eukaryote gene pool trying to find a way to really succeed and some of them capitalized on a sudden source of nitrogen? or was nitrogen itself what caused the flourishing? was the eukaryote world boring and homogenous prior to the introduction of all this nitrogen?

Regardless, it's immensely fascinating.

Again, not a biologist but the critical reader in me gets a "I have a hammer, so everything is a nail" vibe from this theory.
I prefer a sawzall myself. And I get it. I don't think molybdenum is the "wonder element" that saved life. Just speculating on the possibly amazing affects that small changes can have in the long run and how life seems to sort of hang around waiting for the next small thing to capitalize on to generate the next big thing.

I shouldn't post when drinking...

Re:terraforming and other things (4, Informative)

dokebi (624663) | more than 6 years ago | (#22877020)

Nitrogen is part of both DNA and amino acids. Therefore all life as we know it requires it. We can speculate about other types of lifeforms that doesn't use DNA, but as far as we know the, nitrogenases are the only enzymes that takes nitrogen gas to a usable form (ammonia).

It is important to realize that life on earth didn't all come to existence at once. Animals cannot breath CO2 not because it can't evolve for it but because our metabolism depends on oxygen. Without plants fixing CO2 and putting out O2, *for millions of years*, animals couldn't exist. Plants couldn't evolve to fix nitrogen in the similar way. Read up on the nitrogen cycle.

BTW, IMAB (I am a biologist).

Re:terraforming and other things (1)

debatem1 (1087307) | more than 6 years ago | (#22877384)

BTW, IMAB (I am a biologist).

IANAEM (I Am Not An English Major), but wouldn't that be "IAAB"?

Re:terraforming and other things (2, Interesting)

icebike (68054) | more than 6 years ago | (#22878140)

> Read up on the nitrogen cycle.

I did. and molybdenum was not mentioned anywhere.

Re:terraforming and other things (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22878566)

Try reading something over a sixth grade level. It might help.

Re:terraforming and other things (2, Informative)

thepotoo (829391) | more than 6 years ago | (#22880188)

Sigh. [google.com] How hard did you look, exactly?

(Mo is used as a cofactor, meaning that it can be used over and over again without being depleted. You just need a single atom of Mo per enzyme.)

Re:terraforming and other things (1)

arachnoprobe (945081) | more than 6 years ago | (#22880594)

TTW: (Try the Wikipedia) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nitrogen_fixation [wikipedia.org]

Re:terraforming and other things (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 6 years ago | (#22883846)

But the only reference to Molybdenum in that wiki article was
to a artificial process discovered in 2003, NOT to natural fixation.

Re:terraforming and other things (1)

arachnoprobe (945081) | more than 6 years ago | (#22884230)

But thats exactly what the original was about: Molybdenum plays a significant role in the nitrogen cycle. The artifical compound for nitrogen fixation shows that it is possible to use Mo for that. And since the ligand in the compound by Cummins et al. bounds with N-atoms to the Mo, it would be easy for "mother nature" to use proteins for that.

Re:terraforming and other things (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22878322)

Great but animals evolved before plants. YABB (You Are a Bad Biologist)

Re:terraforming and other things (2, Informative)

thepotoo (829391) | more than 6 years ago | (#22880156)

Nope. You lose. Bacteria/Prokaryotes/lots of protolife evolved first. I don't have a Biology textbook in front of me, but here [wmnh.com] is an online reference. IAAB (student)

Re:terraforming and other things (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 6 years ago | (#22881136)

Oh come on there is no proof that nitrogen is needed complex life. Just because every known life form on earth needs doesn't mean that it is required.
BTW yes I am just kidding.
Thanks for your post. I loved science but never really got into biology. Probably because the required biology classes in high school and college where mainly what I called "gross plumbing" classes.
I did like Chemistry so I have to admit that I get a chuckle out of it when people make a statment like. "Maybe life could just use something to replace nitrogen."

It maybe possible but the first biologist that finds a form of life that does it will make it to the history books.

Re:terraforming and other things (1)

AJWM (19027) | more than 6 years ago | (#22877474)

Also, this makes me wonder what those eukaryotes were doing for the first 2 billion years.

Mostly "not existing". Eukaryotes didn't appear until around 1.5 to 2 billion years ago -- about 2 billion years after prokaryotes arose.

Re:terraforming and other things (1)

pintpusher (854001) | more than 6 years ago | (#22878116)

From TFA:

Knoll was perplexed by the fact that eukaryotes didn't dominate the world until around 0.7 billion years ago, even though they seemed to have evolved before 2.7 billion years ago.
in other words, they appear to have been just lying around for 2 billion years.

Re:terraforming and other things (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22879560)

lying around and planning for world domination! Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.

Re:terraforming and other things (1)

WalksOnDirt (704461) | more than 6 years ago | (#22878536)

Without an oxygen rich environment to free the molybdenum, there's no significant nitrogen fixation and thus those plants are going to be hurting pretty quickly.
There is significant nitrogen fixation from lightning, currently thought to be over 5% of the natural total. This is well known, and I'm sure the authors of the paper are aware of it. The article states that a low level of nitrogen fixation favors prokaryotes, but it's unclear if this is just generally true in a low nitrogen environment, or if only nitrogen fixing bacteria are thought to have thrived when the level of molybdenum was low.

Re:terraforming and other things (1)

pintpusher (854001) | more than 6 years ago | (#22878640)

This is interesting and thanks for it!

But what is the advantage to learning how to fix nitrogen if there is already sufficient amounts around? Clearly, the amount that is fix(ated?) by lightning (and other non-biological processes??) is not sufficient to to support the kinds of nitrogen level needed for serious eukaryotic developement. At least that's how I read it... reiterating that I'm not a biologist, just curious.

And it's not clear to me at all that only nitrogen fixing bacteria thrived when the molybdenum levels were low. It seems to me like maybe the availability of molybdenum spurred a development of nitrogen fixers as it aided their process. So maybe it was mostly nitrogen fixers around, but they weren't doing very well because of a lack of molybdenum? I don't know.

It's all pretty dang cool though!

Re:terraforming and other things (4, Interesting)

thepotoo (829391) | more than 6 years ago | (#22880344)

But what is the advantage to learning how to fix nitrogen if there is already sufficient amounts around?

It's all about evolution. Sure, you* have enough NH3 to survive, even to grow, but there's millions of tons of N2 gas in the atmosphere, and if you could somehow use that as a fuel source, you'd be set for life.

So then, along comes a random mutation in an enzyme that pulls converts nitrites to nitrates (I'm making this up - but it was probably some enzyme to do with N). Rather than killing you, it allows you to pull N2 out of the air and turn it into ammonia, allowing you to reproduce more quickly. Now another mutation comes along, and it allows you to use Mo to push forward the reaction (mind you it worked before you had Mo: reactions can generally go forward without their cofactors, just more slowly.)

With this cofactor, you're able to reproduce much more quickly than your neighbors which don't have the mutation, and you become the bacteria we know today.

*you here refers to a now-extinct progenitor of nitrogen fixing bacteria. Individuals reproduce, populations evolve.

So maybe it was mostly nitrogen fixers around, but they weren't doing very well because of a lack of molybdenum?

Like I said, cofactors generally speed up a process. They are not generally required for the reaction to happen, they just speed it up (by several orders of magnitude) when they are present.

Re:terraforming and other things (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22898596)

Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't metal cofactors in enzymes required for them to have activity? Something to do with conformation. And, of course, if the enzyme doesn't work then the reaction may work so slowly it's effectively not happening, or it may even run the other way.

Re:terraforming and other things (1)

Pictish Prince (988570) | more than 6 years ago | (#22881670)

Lightning in a reducing atmosphere (like Titan's) would produce ammonia. Lightning in our atmosphere produces nitrogen oxides, which combines with water to produce nitric acid. So the fixing follows a very different path.

Re:terraforming and other things (1)

HonkyLips (654494) | more than 6 years ago | (#22879978)

Also, this makes me wonder what those eukaryotes were doing for the first 2 billion years.

If you really want an idea, try reading "Oxygen" by Nick Lane, basically it's a popular science book which looks at recent research into the evolution of the Earth. It's very interesting and overturns a few established ideas, such as the "mass extinction" of anaerobic microbes as oxygen entered the atmosphere. I got it as a bonus when I bought his other book "power, sex, suicide" which looks at mitochondria and cellular evolutiuon too, and actually found it more interesting.

42 (5, Funny)

RuBLed (995686) | more than 6 years ago | (#22876382)

Its the ultimate answer to life and everything.

According to wikipedia.

Molybdenum is the 42nd-most-abundant element in the universe


Coincidence? I think not!

Re:42 (5, Funny)

Torodung (31985) | more than 6 years ago | (#22876482)

Its the ultimate answer to life and everything.

According to wikipedia.

        Molybdenum is the 42nd-most-abundant element in the universe
And it can hardly be coincidence that you fail to mention its atomic number is also 42!

ZOMG! Is it April Fools' yet?

--
Toro

Re:42 (4, Informative)

Silicon Jedi (878120) | more than 6 years ago | (#22876498)

Holy crap! There are 42 protons in its nucleus!

Re:42 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22876764)

OMG, it has 42 electrons swarming around it. RUN!!

Re:42 (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22876962)

No. Run when it doesn't have 42 electrons. You're in for a shock!

Re:42 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22876814)

42? That's amazing! I've got the same combination on my luggage!

Re:42 (2, Informative)

rangek (16645) | more than 6 years ago | (#22876826)

Holy crap! There are 42 protons in its nucleus!

You dope. That is what the atomic number means.

Re:42 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22877752)

Yes, but what does wooooosh mean?

MOD PARENT UP!!! (1)

argux (568146) | more than 6 years ago | (#22879256)

This is why I read slashdot!

Re:42 (0, Offtopic)

mbyte (65875) | more than 6 years ago | (#22879354)

Only on Slashdot this could be moderated "informative ... "

Re:42 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22884736)

mod parent redundant

Re:42 (1)

Thornburg (264444) | more than 6 years ago | (#22885314)

Eegads. Who modded this "informative". It is a JOKE. The ENTIRE section of this thread relating to the number 42 is a joke. Please mod parent "funny" and mod the "that's what the atomic number means" post "didn't get the joke".

Re:42 (1)

poopdeville (841677) | more than 6 years ago | (#22876992)

That's pretty much what makes it 42nd most abundant...

Re:42 (1)

AJWM (19027) | more than 6 years ago | (#22877610)

And it can hardly be coincidence that you fail to mention its atomic number is also 42!

Not only that, but when you multiply six by nine (in base ten), you get 54 -- which is the average number of neutrons in a molybdenum nucleus. (Is there anyone here that does not know that 6x9=42 in base 13?)

Hmm...

Interesting thought for a sci-fi novel (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22876446)

The universe used to be full of life, it's really quite a common occurrence, but for some reason the Earth, and other distant planets on the edges of galaxies, were mined for molybdenum, causing us to be the last lifeforms ever produced by a fertile cosmos. This teeming universe of life is long gone, for various reasons, but because these were chosen backwaters for exploitation, these final planets of life are completely unable to communicate or realize that reality. The distance is simply too great to span.

Maybe we're the last man standing. Call it "The Meek Shall Inherit" or something.

Re:Interesting thought for a sci-fi novel (1)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 6 years ago | (#22876514)

Larry Niven's World of Ptaavs, now one of his most forgotten novels but important as his first Known Space book, had the Earth being a "food planet" of galactic empire several billion years ago. Humanity ended up evolving out of the ooze that was being grown for food.

Re:Interesting thought for a sci-fi novel (1)

great om (18682) | more than 6 years ago | (#22876720)

how does that explain the Pak?

Re:Interesting thought for a sci-fi novel (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22877214)

Presumably Niven didn't anticipate the Pak when writing World of Ptaavs. But there's not really any need to retcon. Characters in World of Ptaavs assumed that humanity evolved from Slaver food species on Earth. They were just slightly wrong. Food species on Earth did become highly evolved, but never became intelligent. The Pak evolved from the same sort of food species growing on a distant planet. A Pak colony was sent to Earth and somehow became lost, and then Homo sapiens evolved from the remnant of that colony.

The real problem is the coincidence between the evolution of apes on earth, and the Pak from their homeworld. This is a problem regardless of the Slaver backstory. As far as I know there is no good explanation for this in Niven's universe... but I could be wrong.

Re:Interesting thought for a sci-fi novel (1)

AJWM (19027) | more than 6 years ago | (#22877654)

It doesn't. Grandparent misspoke, he should have said that all(?) Earth life except primates evolved from Thrint foodyeast. Primates evolved from the survivors of a failed Pak colonization attempt.

Of course it's entirely possible that Pak evolved from foodyeast too, in which case the GP is correct.

Re:Interesting thought for a sci-fi novel (1)

Evil Pete (73279) | more than 6 years ago | (#22880020)

Ahhh. World of Ptavvs. Earth was a food world of the Slavers [wikipedia.org] . Creatures which could telepathically dominate any species. The Tnuctip [wikipedia.org] , clever little buggers, fomented a revolution with the Bandersnatchi (who were immune to the Slavers telepathy, by design) against the Slavers. Who promptly, with great spite, wiped out all life in the galaxy. The Bandersnatchi on Earth presumably died out. Leaving the algae to evolve.

Protectors don't even come into it. Though Slavers are mentioned in Protector, Roy Truesdale sees the mirrored form of the Slaver in its stasis suit in a museum and there is the brief comment something like: it is very dangerous, once it got loose. That comment is World of Ptavvs.

Re:Interesting thought for a sci-fi novel (4, Interesting)

sssssss27 (1117705) | more than 6 years ago | (#22876854)

That reminds me of a quote from Chuck Palahniuk:

"Centuries ago, sailors on long voyages used to leave a pair of pigs on every deserted island. Or they'd leave a pair of goats. Either way, on any future visit, the island would be a source of meat. These islands, they were pristine. These were home to breeds of birds with no natural predators. Breeds of birds that lived nowhere else on earth. The plants there, without enemies they evolved without thorns or poisons. Without predators and enemies, these islands, they were paradise. The sailors, the next time they visited these islands, the only things still there would be herds of goats or pigs. .... Does this remind you of anything? Maybe the ol' Adam and Eve story? .... You ever wonder when God's coming back with a lot of barbecue sauce?"

Re:Interesting thought for a sci-fi novel (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 6 years ago | (#22877106)

He likes Lea & Perrins.

Re:Interesting thought for a sci-fi novel (1)

Torodung (31985) | more than 6 years ago | (#22878516)

Does this remind you of anything? Maybe the ol' Adam and Eve story? .... You ever wonder when God's coming back with a lot of barbecue sauce?"
Do you wonder what the Lake of Fire is? Did you know that the original title of the Bible is "Preparing Humans?" Can you picture the classical image of "Satan" dressed up like Col. Sanders?

I mean, did you ever wonder why it seems so easy to go to hell? To prepare us to accept our fate. It's all there to condition us to behave like Douglas Adams' Arcturan Megacow!

Thanks for the hilarious post.

--
Toro

Re:Interesting thought for a sci-fi novel (1)

Forbman (794277) | more than 6 years ago | (#22878670)

No, no, no... "To Serve Man". That's the title...

One of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes.

Re:Interesting thought for a sci-fi novel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22879494)

Isn't that the basic premise for the game prey?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prey_(video_game) [wikipedia.org]

Re:Interesting thought for a sci-fi novel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22876670)

Thats worse than a Star Trek film plot.

It was all being saved (1)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 6 years ago | (#22876450)

to build Crow T. Robot.

the deity screws up again (4, Funny)

frovingslosh (582462) | more than 6 years ago | (#22876646)

Bacteria cannot fix nitrogen efficiently when they are deprived of molybdenum So when God created the earth, all of his nitrogen was broken?

Re:the deity screws up again (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22876976)

ha ha ha, wonder how the jews and muzzies explain that one

A fixation (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 6 years ago | (#22876988)

Bacteria cannot fix nitrogen efficiently when they are deprived of molybdenum So when God created the earth, all of his nitrogen was broken?
If "broken" means N2 and "fixed" means amines [wikipedia.org] , then God must have had a nitrogen fixation [wikipedia.org] .

Re:A fixation (1)

Idiomatick (976696) | more than 6 years ago | (#22877550)

I have lost faith in /. Have we fallen so far that we have stopped modding up jokes which require a degree to understand, i thought that was one of the founding principles of this site.

Re:the deity screws up again (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22877042)

No silly. The world was created 6000 years ago and all the "old" stuff we keep discovering is just some childish deity "testing" our faith

Re:the deity screws up again (1)

pangu (322010) | more than 6 years ago | (#22879810)

So when God created the earth, all of his nitrogen was broken?
--
Damn you Bill Gates!(TM)
Bill Gates is not God.

Revised Genesis (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22885490)

First God made heaven & earth
The earth was without form and void, and darkness was
upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving
over the face of the waters.
And God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light.
And God saw that the light was good;
and God separated the light from the darkness.
God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.
And there was evening and there was morning, one day.
And God said, "Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters,
and let it separate the waters from the waters."
And God made the firmament and separated the waters
which were under the firmament from the waters which
were above the firmament. And it was so.
And God called the firmament Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning,
a second day.
And God said, "Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear." And it was so.
God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.
And God said, "Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, upon the earth."
And there was morning, and there was evening,
730 billion times in a row, during which not a God damn thing happened.
And God said, "Um, huh... weird... uh, I dunno, Let There Be Molybdenum or something"
And it was so.
The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind...

Molybdenum?! (4, Funny)

TrebleJunkie (208060) | more than 6 years ago | (#22877202)

Damn near killed 'um!!

*ducks*

Re:Molybdenum?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22878682)

Molybdenum is known to cause cancer in ducks you insensitive clod!

Everstone! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22877686)

Molybdenum delays evolution? Ah, so Everstones must be made of!
I will be very sad if anyone catches the reference.

Re:Everstone! (1)

lexarius (560925) | more than 6 years ago | (#22878272)

One word: Pokemon. Now *I* am very sad I caught that reference. And you've got it a little backwards: Lack of it caused the delay.

Re:Everstone! (1)

ari_j (90255) | more than 6 years ago | (#22878286)

Molybdenum delays evolution? Ah, so Everstones must be made of!
I will be very sad if anyone catches the reference.

I wouldn't worry about it.

Obligatory Simpson's Quote (1)

Brett Buck (811747) | more than 6 years ago | (#22879040)

Imagine a world without zinc, er, molybdenum!

          Brett

implausible (1)

nguy (1207026) | more than 6 years ago | (#22879112)

I find the assumption that the only way of fixing nitrogen requires molybdenum rather implausible. Chances are that molybdenum got used for that purpose once it became available, and before that, nitrogen fixation was either not needed (because there was enough ammonia and/or nitrous oxide around), or there were other pathways.

Re:implausible (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 6 years ago | (#22883940)

The article says "fix molybdenum efficiently."

Just like life as we know it doesn't technically need oxygen, but oxygen dependent metabolism is SO much more efficient that when it comes along it not only blows everything else away but also opens up a lot of new possibilities for life.

"Lack", "Delayed"? (1)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 6 years ago | (#22879612)

Given that we're exploring alternative histories here, wouldn't it be more accurate to say that if molybdenum had been more abundant, animal life might have evolved sooner? The normal state is after all what we're looking at.

This discovery could be useful for accelerating the terraforming of planets, eventually.

Eukaryotes (1)

Xest (935314) | more than 6 years ago | (#22880262)

Excuse my sheer ignorance of the subject, but may I ask what humans, plants and pachyderms have in common to lump us into the same group that other creatures aren't lumped in to?

Is there any reason we're being lumped along with things like elephants and trees or was that list just a very small sample of the creatures included such that the term covers pretty much all living creatures? Presumably creatures like primates are also in this group?

Re:Eukaryotes (2, Informative)

Blastercorps (762119) | more than 6 years ago | (#22880578)

Compared to prokaryotes [wikipedia.org] (simple life, bacteria), all eukaryote life [wikipedia.org] (advanced life like plants pachyderms and people) are essentially cousins. This is a split that happened at the dawn of life on earth. This article theorizes that the split would have happened earlier if not for a lack of molybdenum and the resultant lack of usable nitrogen.

Re:Eukaryotes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22881322)

Umm... are you an idiot? http://www.google.com/search?q=eukaryote [google.com]

Author needs to study some biochemistry (4, Interesting)

uberhobo_one (1034544) | more than 6 years ago | (#22881170)

It's so sad when bad things happen to good ideas. The fact that there may have been dearth of molybdenum in the early oceans isn't a crippling blow to the development of eukaryotes.

Nitrogenase, the enzyme that performs nitrogen fixation today, commonly uses, but doesn't require, molybdenum for its function. There are forms of the enzyme that use vanadium or iron as a cofactor to the ubiquitous iron-sulfur cluster that actually performs the chemistry.

I don't know if this event happened before or after the iron catastrophe, but the fact that the enzyme uses iron anyway makes me believe that there must have been enough iron around the oceans back then. Methinks the author's running off the old idea that the nitrogen reduction occurs on the molybdenum atom instead of one of the iron atoms in the iron-sulfur cluster.

An excuse for always being 10 minutes late (1)

Anomalyst (742352) | more than 6 years ago | (#22882184)

I just knew there had to be an underlying scientific reason.

Two words (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22883144)

Holy moly?

Wait a minute (1)

Fysiks Wurks (949375) | more than 6 years ago | (#22883226)

I work in a metallurgical research lab. We have lots of Molybdenum - but things seem pretty lifeless around here!

To quote Boris Badenov (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22886532)

Gold
Silver
Platinum
Molyb....
Molebd...
Molde...More Gold!
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