April 1, 2014

Methane-producing microbes may be responsible for the largest mass extinction in Earth’s history – an event that wiped out 90 per cent of the planet’s species 252 million years ago, a new MIT study has found.

Researchers have found enough evidence to show that the perpetrators of the largest of the planet’s five known mass extinctions, were not asteroids, volcanoes, or raging coal fires, all of which have been implicated previously.

Rather, they were a form of microbes – specifically, methane-producing archaea called Methanosarcina – that suddenly bloomed explosively in the oceans, spewing prodigious amounts of methane into the atmosphere and dramatically changing the climate and the chemistry of the oceans.

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