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Did microbes cause mass extinction?

Published on Apr 1, 2014 4:34 AM

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Volcanoes and asteroids are sometimes blamed for wiping out nearly all life on Earth 252 million years ago, but US research Monday suggested a more small-time criminal: microbes.

These microbes, known as Methanosarcina, bloomed in the ocean on a massive and sudden scale, spewing methane into the atmosphere and causing dramatic changes in the chemistry of the oceans and the Earth's climate, according to the new theory put forth by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and colleagues in China.

Scientists studied sediments in rock formations in south China, seeking to explain why the end Permian extinction happened and what caused the largest of five major death events in Earth's history to reap so much destruction over tens of thousands of years.

Volcanic eruptions on their own could not explain why the die-off happened so fast, but they may have released extra nickel into the environment, which fed the microbes, said MIT researcher Gregory Fournier.

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