Dr Daniel Mills on The Biosphere
For the first ever Science and Beers podcast episode, I chat with an old friend. Dr Daniel Mills is a Post-Doc at Stanford University. His research primarily concerns the co-evolution of the Proterozoic biosphere (Earth’s ‘middle age,’ 2.5-0.541 billion years ago) and eukaryotic life — a topic he approaches by studying modern organisms and environments. In 2018, Dan gave a talk at a Science and Beers event. The talk was titled "The Noosphere: The Next Phase of Earth’s Evolution."
Let's put that in context. Earth formed 4.5 billion years ago. From its formation to the beginning of life is known as the Hadean. When the molten hot planet was heavily bombarded with asteroids. The Archean eon saw the beginning of life on the planet. Life existed for the next 1.5 billion years without Oxygen. Cyanobacteria produced Oxygen as a waste product in photosynthesis about 2.5 billion years ago. This changed the geology and chemistry of Earth for the inhabiting single celled organisms. This Proterozoic brings us to the Cambrian Explosion of 0.5 billion years ago when Eukaryotic, multicellular organisms began to thrive. From then until now is known as the Phanerozoic. Some geologists argue that the current period and the last 200 years should be called the Anthropocene, as man made products such as plastic can be found in every corner of the globe, including 11 km down in the Mariana Trench. But what comes next? The material produced in the Anthropocene is a result of the creativity of the human mind. We have an ability to innovate like no other species. Our consciousness allows us to imagine. Currently, this ability seems destructive for the planet as a whole. We could use our creativity and use science and technology to learn how the planet works. We could use this knowledge to develop a space exploring people. Taking the next eon beyond Earth. We could choose to work together to build a better world. Or we could not. Either way our presence on the planet is unprecedented. Dan's talk put our potential into perspective. It was a pleasure to have him back for a Science and Beers podcast.
As we chat, we give credence to the discoveries of Vladimir Vernadsky, a Russian mineralogist who, in the early 20th century published a book called The Biosphere. Vernadsky realised that the geology, chemistry and biology on earth are intricately intertwined. They influence each other. His ideas were a precursor to the Gaia hypothesis, that the earth is a living breathing entity. Her systems work to bring balance via geological and biological processes.
Read more about Dan on his website
Photo still taken from a video by Syddansk Universitet