Friday, January 4, 2019

Plants suffer from oxygen pollution


This is a funny thing and related to real climate change over billions of years.  A few billion years ago our atmosphere started out as carbon dioxide and methane at 20% with the usual nitrogen.  Our temperature was shirt-sleeve as always.  Bacteria lived, eating the methane.

But, there was this great opportunity with the co2.  A molecule formed from mutation, and could trap co2 and do something with it, by hitting it with a photon.  The method of photosynthesis evolved in high co2 and has never changed since.

These early bacteria, and then plants had a heyday.  They chugged away eating co2, and leaving oxygen as pollution.  Why did we settle at 20% o2?  Because the plants were stewing in their own juice.  They couldn't handle that o2 and photosynthesis started to get screwed up.  The molecule was picking up o2 as easily as co2.

The plants handled this by dying.  But they evolved a kludge tack-on mechanism that cleansed o2, through respiration.  With this they could probably go up another few percent of o2.

That respiration mechanism was picked up by animals who could live with o2, and eat plants.  Yeah!

But now scientists can fix the kludge and increase production by 40%.  Can we see a problem with that?  We can drive down co2 and increase o2 percentage.  No unforeseen consequences here!  :)


Penny said...

this one I have to read again, including the article, so I can better grasp what on the surface appears to be rather bizarre.

Harold Asmis said...

Obviously, there could be a huge consequence here. The plants get rid of that 'garbage oxygen' by eating themselves, they burn sugar. That's exactly what we animals do, and we probably stole it from the plants. If there was a lot of sugar around as a pollutant, and oxygen, then a cell could break off that doesn't bother with the sunlight. Add mobility to find more sugar and it's an animal. So, we have a balance that has gone on for billions of years.

Enter a magic trick that increases the efficiency of plants eating themselves. If it had been a good trick then evolution would have found it. Most likely it has problems, but if it were real, then oxygen levels would increase and the plants would burn in massive fires. Probably why they don't like it.