A Walk Through Time

Mini-Mineral Marvels

1000 Million Years Ago

As geologic processes create and metamorphose Earth rocks and minerals, life radiates (multiple species diverge from common ancestors). New protoctist species evolve, each with their own special mineral interests. Some of these microbes produce their own minerals (biomineralization), using them in diverse and creative ways.

Bacteria learned long ago, for example, to make magnetite, which they use for compass orientation in muds and shallows. Although still in early development, the protoctists display manufactured minerals in a variety of styles unmatched by other kingdoms of life.

Top: Scientists today recognize over 60 different inorganic minerals produced by life. A variety of organisms, ranging from bacteria to humans, participate in the production processes. This living protist is a foram. The foram makes its shell of calcium carbonate. Diatoms, smaller symbiotic protists living inside the foram, make their own silica shells. (Photograph by John Lee)

Bottom: Many contemporary anemones are symbionts with hermit crabs; the crabs provide a free ride, the stinging anemone provides protection. Crabs move out and on when they grow too large for their borrowed shell homes, rather disruptive and discomforting for the anemone. This beautiful golden shell is actually a biomineralized overlay and addition created by an anemone for its crab partner. As a crab grows in size, its anemone partner can add to the shell to maintain a fit that is just right. (Photograph by Daphne Fautin)

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