Life at The Edge of Sight

Published in: the belknap press of Harvard
university press
Release Year: 2017
ISBN: 978-0674-9-7591-0
Pages: 385
Edition: 1st
File Size: 31 MB
File Type: pdf
Language: English

Description of Life at The Edge of Sight

LIFE ON EARTH HAD IT'S ORIGINS about four billion years ago. The early life-forms were most certainly microbes—far too small to see with the naked eye. For three billion years, microbes reigned supreme on the planet. During this time they evolved to adapt to the cooling Earth’s emerging environments and began their colonization of virtually every corner of what today we call the biosphere. Microbes made that biosphere. In doing so, they not only achieved unimaginable levels of species diversity but shaped the very Earth they were colonizing. They made and broke rocks, gave rise to the oxygen in the atmosphere, and participated in many other geological processes. Large organisms—the plants and animals—did not begin to populate the planet until about 500 million years ago, during the Cambrian explosion. Our own human evolution took place in environments where we were constantly surrounded by microbes. Not only did microbes shape our evolution, we in turn shaped their evolution. From the outset, animal life formed intimate symbioses with the microbes surrounding them. The microbes evolved to adapt to the new environments afforded by these newly emerging large organisms.
Part of what makes us human is our long record of domesticating species to our benefit. We tend to think of the domestication of plants and animals as a key development in the establishment of civilization. The domestication of microbes to produce diverse foods and beverages—which we consume to this day—likely began even earlier and has been equally important in our history. For the most part, however, microbes escaped our notice because they are so small. Even though the interaction of humans with microbes has driven our evolution, it was not until relatively recently that we recognized the existence of microbes as living entities.
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