The Earth Rusts

1800 MYA

Major atmospheric changes radically transform Earth's surface. "Red Beds," those huge, rusty piles of uniformly oxidized iron mineral, form every where on the planet. BIFs stop accumulating.

The lucky among the anaerobic bacteria find mud flats and airless niches in which to survive. These relics of the Archean atmosphere still thrive in the 20th century-- at the sulfurous-smelling edges of the sea, in swamps, inside insects, and inside us.

In oxygen-tolerant, and oxygen-loving, bacteria, grand innovations continue. Their mode of respiration is about to lead to new life-forms emerging from a dramatic symbiogenesis.

Over deep time, anaerobic life-forms not only find special niches, they make them. This beautiful "feather" is actually a specialized organ in the intestine of a beetle larvae, symbiotically made by and for glowing methanogenic bacteria. (Photograph by Johannes H. P. Hackstein)

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