Oxygen Eureka Moment And the Boring Billion Years
Majid Ali, M.D.
My oxygen eureka moment in 1974 was a flash of a clarity: evolution selected the element oxygen to begin and drive human evolution. In that eureka flash I saw that all chronic diseases also begin and proceed with changes in oxygen homeostasis. I describe the moment in a companion article entitled “Oxygen Eureka Moment, Science, and Holistic Healing” posted on this website. I related in this article how my oxygen moment eventually led me to write fourteen volumes of my textbook The Principles and Practice of Integrative Medicine. For practitioners and scientists interested in a suggestion where to begin reading this textbook, I suggest the triology of 10th, 11th, and 12th volumes entitled “Darwin, Dysox, and Disease.” For the general reader, I suggest my book Aging and Oxygen (2000), available at www.aliacademy.org.
Since 1974 I have diligently scoured the literature of molecular biology of oxygen as well as its history on the planet Earth for evidence that would invalidate the core notion that evolution chose oxygen to drive all aspects of human evolution. So far my search has not found any such evidence. I have, however, lived with certain areas of uncertainty. One of them concerns what has been dubbed the “boring billion,” the period of time in which proliferations of animal species seemed to have been stymed for unknown reasons. My oxygen eureka moment, of course, offers a simple explanation for the boring billion problem: a fall in ambient oxygen level in that period of time caused by as yet unknown geochemical reasons. There was, however, no clear evidence for this hypothesis. That changed on October 31, 2014.
A multi-university study published in the journal Science reported that the period of time of stymied evolutionary progress in proliferation of microbial and animal species indeed coincided with an era of severe oxygen depletion. Needless to point, that removed all uncertainty about the boring billion problem. In a commentary on the study oxygen depletion report published in the same issue of Science included the following:
“Oxygen’s rise in Earth’s atmosphere used to have a simple story arc. For the first 2 billion years of the planet’s history, scientists thought, the atmosphere was devoid of free oxygen; what oxygen existed was bound up in rocks. Then came the Great Oxygenation Event, sometime about 2.3 billion years ago, when cyanobacteria in the oceans began producing enough oxygen for the gas to accumulate in the atmosphere and the surface of the ocean. What followed was the boring billion. Oxygen levels decreased (and possibly rose and fell again due to biogeochemical feedbacks such as decreased tectonic activity, weathering, and bacterial activity in the oceans). Previous estimates put oxygen at the time at anywhere from 1% to 40% of present-day levels. It wasn’t until about 800 million years ago that oxygen again began to rise, causing reactions that triggered global cooling and then—about 542 million years ago—a rapid diversification of animals called the Cambrian Explosion.