A New Discovery Suggests that UV Radiation was a Contributing Factor to Ancient Mass Extinctions
By: April Carson
Fossilized pollen grains suggest that a devastating wave of lethal ultraviolet (UV) radiation may have been the cause behind Earth's largest mass extinction event.
A recent study involving pollen from the Permian-Triassic mass extinction event, around 250 million years ago, revealed that it produced natural UV-B blocking agents. This may offer insight into why 80% of marine and land species perished during this time period - a lack of adequate protection against hazardous radiation levels.
These findings could have implications for modern-day life, as UV radiation is still a major environmental hazard. Scientists should consider the possibility of using these natural UV blockers in sunscreen to provide better protection from this type of radiation.
On January 6th, a groundbreaking study was published in the renowned journal Science Advances. A group of worldwide scientists pioneered an innovative technique that uses lasers to assess minuscule grains - each one approximately half the size of a human hair - found embedded within rocks collected near Tibet. The laser beams created by the scientists revealed a previously-unseen picture of the Earth's atmosphere from 500 million years ago - the Cambrian period. This breakthrough has been hailed as revolutionary and is sure to provide immense value for humanity's understanding of our natural world.
The study revealed that the grains date back to an event known as the Ordovician-Silurian mass extinction, which occurred 450 million years ago. This extinction event has long been attributed to a massive reduction in oxygen levels of the Earth's oceans.
Plants depend upon photosynthesis to derive energy from sunlight, but they also have a need for an efficient safeguard that can protect them from dangerous UV-B radiation.
Barry Lomax, a professor of plant paleobiology at the University of Nottingham in the U.K., expressed his thoughts to Live Science on why UV-B is not just detrimental to us but also plants - “Just as it harms us, so too does it harm them.” Rather than relying on [the pharmacy], plants have the incredible ability to produce their own form of sunscreen compounds. This chemical structure is uniquely designed to absorb and disperse UV-B light, thus guarding against damage within pollen grains and other preserved tissues.
Dr. Lomax sheds light on the situation, saying that this radiation spike didn't lead to an immediate death of the plants; instead it caused a decrease in their capacity to photosynthesize and eventually led to sterility over time. In other words, extinction was driven by lack of sexual reproduction rather than UV-B exposure destroying them immediately.
Scholars have conjectured that the Permian-Triassic extinction, one of the five greatest mass extinctions in Earth's history, was a consequence of an "environmental emergency" provoked by the Siberian Traps eruption - an expansive volcanic event located in contemporary Siberia. In an unfortunate event, carbon was thrust from the depths of our planet's interior into the stratosphere, eventually leading to a surge in global temperatures that caused "the Earth's ozone layer to quickly collapse," as per scientific research.
However, a more recent discovery challenges this prevailing hypothesis. A groundbreaking study published in the journal Nature Communications suggests that ultraviolet radiation (UV-B) played an integral role in the mass extinction event.
Lomax explains that when the ozone layer thins out, it leads to more UV-B radiation. Furthermore, their research uncovered a correlation between this burst of light and how it altered plants’ tissue chemistry resulting in fewer insect species.
The study's authors note that the UV-B radiation created a “toxic cocktail” of chemicals which affected the food chain as well as the ecology of the Earth, leading to systemic extinction.
According to Lomax, foliage lost its nutritional value due to a lack of nitrogen; this rendered them unpalatable for herbivores and harder for insects to digest. This may be why insect populations experienced such dramatic decline during the extinction event.
In contrast to other mass extinction events, this one was destructive for insects according to Lomax. The evidence points to UV-B radiation as a major contributor to the loss of insect species during this time.
As more research is done, it’s likely that scientists will be able to further refine our understanding of past extinction events and how they were affected by environmental factors like UV radiation. This knowledge may be invaluable in helping us to understand our current environmental crisis, and how best to protect the planet’s biodiversity for future generations.
How To Reprogram Your DNA By Billy Carson
April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav
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