Vernal Pond, 3000 Million years ago: Tensions are brewing in the calm methane backwaters of the supercontinent, as anaerobic residents raise their voices against the poisoning of their environment by Photosynthesising organisms that have evolved in their area.
“We are seeing an alarming rise in oxygen levels in these backwaters – not enough to cause serious damage just yet, but the kind that can wipe out a whole neighbourhood,” claimed a bacteria living at the bottom of the methane pond, “And we’re seeing more and more bacteria answering this siren call of Big Photosynthesis and that’s just making the problem worse.”
Photosynthesis is the newest energy making method on the market today – instead of making use of the usual nitrates and sulphates, the method relies on carbon dioxide and sunlight to produce energy. It is alleged that this method generates over 30 ATP, which is nearly 6 fold the energy production from current anaerobic mechanisms, making it a potential game changer in bacterial respiration – were it not for the oxygen byproduct, arguably the most toxic chemical on Earth. Oxygen causes deadly oxidation reactions that could prove fatal to the anaerobic residents of these water bodies.
When asked about why they do this, the cyanobacteria (one of the biggest stakeholders in Big Photosynthesis) that reside on the surface of these ponds gave an impassioned but controversial speech, “We can stay down there in the darkness, moving around and reproducing slowly, or we can embrace this new, amazing technique and live more energetically. It’s all about the legacy we wish to leave our kids. Yes, oxygen is dangerous – it affects us too! But this is, as they say, a big pond with many little bacteria in it. It’s going to be a long while before anything serious happens to anyone. Who knows, maybe some clever young bacterium here might figure out a way to synthesis the oxygen for their own use!”
Of course, the other residents of the lake were less impressed by the cyanobacteria’s attitude. “Seriously? 39 ATP? Man, if I had that much energy I would be skipping on the surface rocks by now. If all they need is carbon dioxide, then why is the methane concentration in our pond reducing, hmm? I think they messed up – photosynthesis is a scam, and they have resorted to using up our methane to make it seem like it’s working. They’re lying to us.” One disgruntled surface bacteria told The Toike. “And so what if we’re from the same ancestor – have you seen the way some of the cyanobacteria look – some are weird and long, and some are just scores of cyanobacteria just stacked one on top of the other. It’s inexplicable!”
“We face a lot of discrimination due to the new structures we have incorporated. These new organelles help us photosynthesise better, but as a result, we have taken on a slightly stranger appearance – sometimes we even glow – however it has allowed us to do many more things, and has only enhanced cooperation amongst neighbouring cyanobacteria. I think the energy Photosynthesis helps us produce is really bringing us together as a community. And I can only hope our cousins see it the same way.” One hopeful cyanobacteria reports.
Whether or not photosynthesis will eventually catch on, is a question that might not be answered in the next 700 million years or so, but the fact still remains that as the oxygen levels continue to rise in the ponds across the supercontinent, the future of all these bacteria – including those that buy into the idea of Photosynthesis – is now very uncertain.