There are a lot of things I think about, on the topic of algae. The intensely creepy hair-like strands of it that live in the McCauley Warm Springs near Valles Caldera spring instantly to mind, for example. It was a nice hike and a fun soak, but I’ve seen The Ring and Ju-On too many times to be comfortable around anything that basically looks like long strands of black hair floating in water. Or I think about the Marimo that I got in Sapporo when I was visiting my friends Nick and Chelsea, which are still happily living on my bookshelf and looking adorable. And of course, we cannot forget the distinctive fart-like smell that algae tends to produce any time it’s having a party somewhere.
But murder? Not even on the list.
I’m not sure if it’s deadly fart-smell or something else that have a few scientists thinking that cyanobacteria have helped murder a lot of species throughout Earth history.
It’s an interesting hypothesis, right up there with insects killed the dinosaurs. I’m not sure if I really buy it, though. If nothing else, there’s the pretty darn good geological evidence for at least the Creataceous extinction, which is pretty hard to work around. It strains my credulity just a little to envision that, despite the fact that a giant rock came rocketing out of space to punch the Earth in the face, it was actually algae or bugs that took out the dinosaurs. As a contributing factor, or Mother Nature kicking the dinosaurs while they were down, okay, maybe.
It sounds like there are a lot of people on the case with ideas on how they could disprove the idea, like seeing if algae could even pump out that many toxins, so we shall see what comes of that. (Woohoo! Stromatolites!) Sadly, once you get further back than the Permian extinction we really don’t have much evidence at all on what caused other mass extinctions – not that the evidence for the Permian extinction is even that clear. The rocks are just too old and too rare, so I suppose murderous cyanobacteria is fair enough to throw in to the ring for a try.