Oxygen – The molecule that made the world.

Title :- Oxygen – The molecule that made the world.

By :- Nick Lane

Published :- Oxford University Press, Oxford & many cities about the world  – paperback 2002 (350 pages)

Outline :-

The book starts in the Pre Cambrian where the sun evaporates ocean water and sunlight splits some of the water into H2 that drifts away from earth, and O2 that stays in the atmosphere (and dissolved in upper ocean). This Pre Cambrian low level of oxygen (about ½ percent) is in equilibrium, and earliest tiny life learns to adapt to Oxygen – using its efficiency for supplying energy, and managing its oxidative stress. The author then rations that snowball earth changed the environment, allowing larger jelly fish life wherein their excretions were heavy and sank, thus allowing for a buildup of oxygen to similar levels of today. This higher oxygen level brought about significant oxidation of the soil, and thus the chemistry of the oceans change to precipitate out the iron (Australia banded iron formations etc). The build up of oxygen also built the ozone layer, to support future land forms of life. The author rationalizes that Mars and other planets lost their oceans through evaporation & irradiation splitting water, as such planets did not develop high oxygen content atmospheres.

The book then opens up the Carboniferous period with the discovery of giant insects, and gives the molecular biological rational for the development of giant forms of life. This concept continues today where some forms of fish are twice as big in the Antarctica waters (where dissolved oxygen is higher) as compared to tropical varieties of the same fish. The author postulates that continental drift may have change the global climate, and allowed for burial of more carbon (coal, carbonaceous clay etc) to be one of the significant factors for such an increase in oxygen.

Much of this book is about the role of oxygen related to biology, particularly at the atomic level, wherein the author links oxidative stress to aging and certain illnesses. The concept of oxidative stress is derived from the cell in taking oxygen to use an electron for energy, thus making OH which will adversely react with the cells other molecules (including DNA) unless measures are taken by the molecules in the cell to exclude or protect the cell from OH. One example of an interesting point is that it seems that people who survive malaria at an early age may be less prone to some diseases that are more common amongst aged people (Alzheimer’s etc), as their immune system tends to build up protection of uninfected cells and limits swelling of affected cells.

A surprising intellectual and informing book that is easy to read. Certainly recommend to medical doctors, medical researchers, along with those seriously studying geology.

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