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OxygenA Four Billion Year History$
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Donald Eugene Canfield

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780691145020

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691145020.001.0001

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Cyanobacteria: The Great Liberators

Cyanobacteria: The Great Liberators

(p.41) Chapter 4 Cyanobacteria: The Great Liberators

Donald Eugene Canfield

Princeton University Press

This chapter discusses the importance of cyanobacteria. The evolution of cyanobacteria brought the biological production of oxygen to Earth for the first time. This led, in turn, to the eventual accumulation of oxygen in the atmosphere and to the widespread evolution of oxygen-utilizing organisms. However, the importance of cyanobacteria goes beyond this. Cyanobacteria were the first photosynthetic organisms on Earth to use water as a source of electrons. Unlike the sulfide, Fe2+, and H2 used by anoxygenic phototrophic organisms, water is almost everywhere on the planet surface. This means that biological production on Earth was no longer limited by the electron source (water in this case), but rather by nutrients and other trace constituents making up the cells. In the end, the use of water in photosynthesis resulted in an increase in rates of primary production on Earth by probably somewhere between a factor of ten to a thousand. For the first time, life on Earth became truly plentiful. With the evolution of cyanobacteria, Earth was on its way to becoming a green planet.

Keywords:   cyanobacteria, Earth, water, photosynthesis, anoxygenic phototrophic organisms

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