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A dinosaur-killing asteroid may have wiped out much of life on Earth 65 million years ago, but now scientists have discovered how smaller organisms might have survived in the darkness following such a catastrophic impact.
Survival may have depended upon jack-of-all-trades organisms called mixotrophs that can consume organic matter in the absence of sunlight. That would have proved crucial during the long months of dust and debris blotting out the sun, when plenty of dead or dying organic matter filled the Earth's oceans and lakes.
"Mixotrophs are very good at stabilizing situations by using whatever resources are there, and can often provide what resources there aren't," said Harriet Jones, a biologist at the University of East Anglia in the UK. "They're very good at coping in extreme environments, and enabling other organisms to live."
Jones and her colleagues tested the limits of mixotrophs by subjecting them to six months of low light or complete darkness. The mixotrophs not only thrived, but also surprised researchers by helping sunlight-dependent organisms also survive pitch black conditions.
Life in the Dark: How Organisms Survived Asteroid Impacts
10 September 2009
Link: Space.com article
Link: Wikipedia - Mixotroph
This area will cover relevant news of the threat to the planet from Near Earth Objects (NEOs) including concepts and designs for mitigation. All opinions are those of the author.
11 September 2009
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