Tripping The Light Fantastic

And the Waters Separated

3600 MYA

As Earth calms, hydrogen becomes scarce. The cyanobacteria (the blue greens, wiliest of the microbes), pioneer the intranet approach: inside themselves, they link together two photosystems. This gives cyanobacteria enough energy to split tightly knit water molecules and procure the hydrogen for their bodies.

Waste Not. Great innovations are often characterized by unexpected novelties and unimaginable results. This power-plant technique of harvesting hydrogen also produces highly toxic waste, oxygen, which poisons other anaerobic microbes while opening new and diverse paths for oxygen-breathing biota.

Microcoleus cthonoplastes bacteria, soaking in sunlight, employ protective sheaths to screen out ultraviolet radiation. We still do not understand how these gliding mat builders move. (Photography by Carmen Aguilar-Diaz, top, and John Stolz, bottom)

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