How chemical clues from prehistoric microbes rewrote the story of one of Earth’s biggest mass extinctions

How chemical clues from prehistoric microbes rewrote the story of one of Earth's biggest mass extinctions
Microbial mats in Shark Bay, Western Australia, similar to those that lived around 200 million years ago. Credit: Yalimay Jimenez Duarte WA-OIGC, Curtin University, Author provided

Chemical clues left behind by humble microbes have rewritten the timeline of one of the biggest mass extinction events in Earth’s history.


The so-called “end-Triassic mass extinction”, thought to have occurred just over 200 million years ago, wiped out swathes of prehistoric creatures both on land and in the oceans. It was prompted by the breakup of the supercontinent Pangea, which triggered massive volcanic activity that flooded the atmosphere with carbon dioxide and acidified the oceans.

But our new research, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests these cataclysmic events actually happened later than previously thought.

We made this discovery by examining molecular fossils—trace chemicals derived from microbial “mats” that bathed in prehistoric waters.

A likely story

Traditionally, scientists have placed the mass extinction event, and the volcanic upheaval that presaged it, at about 201 million years ago.

They came to this conclusion after studying rocks of that age from the Bristol Channel, UK, which show a distinctive chemical signature. The ratios of different isotopes of carbon within these rocks suggest this was the moment when the global atmosphere changed, as huge amounts of methane were pumped into the skies due to massive volcanic activity covering the central Atlantic, in turn altering the chemical composition of rocks that formed during this time.

How chemical clues from prehistoric microbes rewrote the story of one of Earth's biggest mass extinctions
The Bristol Channel is home to rock formations that give an insight into prehistoric life (and death) some 200 million years ago. Credit: Calum Peter Fox, Author provided

But we made a discovery that challenged this assumption. We found evidence of ancient microbial mats in the same region, at the same time. It was these flourishing communities of microbes that actually created the change in the chemical signature of the rocks, rather than a global volcanic event.

These microbial mats formed as the region’s waters changed from salty seawater to brackish or fresh water, and water levels dropped to puddle-like centimetre depths. This is another reason why scientists mistook this event for a mass extinction—marine creatures disappeared from the local fossil record at this time not because they had all died out, but because it was no longer marine.

Of course, the world’s marine creatures had only earned a relatively brief reprieve. We know the volcanic cataclysm did occur, but just not as long ago as previously assumed.

Still going strong

Remarkably, the microbial mats recorded in UK samples are similar to living microbial mats in Australia, such as in Western Australia’s Shark Bay. It’s amazing to think similar microbial communities are still living on Australia’s shorelines to this day.

Microbes have also been useful resources in research to learn about several other mass extinction events too, such as the “Great Dying” that marked the end of the Permian period roughly 252 million years ago, and the dramatic demise of the dinosaurs in a mass extinction some 66

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Chemical scissors snip 2-D transition metal dichalcogenides into nanoribbon

Chemical scissors snip 2-D transition metal dichalcogenides into nanoribbon
Schematic view of scissoring 2-D sheets to nanoribbon.

One of the biggest challenges in making hydrogen production clean and cheap has been finding an alternative catalyst necessary for the chemical reaction that produces the gas, one that is much cheaper and abundant than the very expensive and rare platinum that is currently used. Researchers in Korea have now found a way to ‘snip’ into tiny nanoribbons a cheap and plentiful substance that fits the bill, boosting its catalytic efficiency to at least that of platinum.


Researchers have identified a potential catalyst alternative—and an innovative way to produce them using chemical ‘scissors’—that could make hydrogen production more economical.

The research team led by Professor Sang Ouk Kim at the Department of Materials Science and Engineering published their work in Nature Communications.

Hydrogen is likely to play a key role in the clean transition away from fossil fuels and other processes that produce greenhouse gas emissions. There is a raft of transportation sectors such as long-haul shipping and aviation that are difficult to electrify and so will require cleanly produced hydrogen as a fuel or as a feedstock for other carbon-neutral synthetic fuels. Likewise, fertilizer production and the steel sector are unlikely to be “de-carbonized” without cheap and clean hydrogen.

The problem is that the cheapest methods by far of producing hydrogen gas is currently from natural gas, a process that itself produces the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide-which defeats the purpose.

Alternative techniques of hydrogen production, such as electrolysis using an electric current between two electrodes plunged into water to overcome the chemical bonds holding water together, thereby splitting it into its constituent elements, oxygen and hydrogen are very well established. But one of the factors contributing to the high cost, beyond being extremely energy-intensive, is the need for the very expensive precious and relatively rare metal platinum. The platinum is used as a catalyst-a substance that kicks off or speeds up a chemical reaction-in the hydrogen production process.

As a result, researchers have long been on the hunt for a substitution for platinum—another catalyst that is abundant in the earth and thus much cheaper.

Transition metal dichalcogenides, or TMDs, in a nanomaterial form, have for some time been considered a good candidate as a catalyst replacement for platinum. These are substances composed of one atom of a transition metal (the elements in the middle part of the periodic table) and two atoms of a chalcogen element (the elements in the third-to-last column in the periodic table, specifically sulfur, selenium and tellurium).

What makes TMDs a good bet as a platinum replacement is not just that they are much more abundant, but also their electrons are structured in a way that gives the electrodes a boost.

In addition, a TMD that is a nanomaterial is essentially a two-dimensional super-thin sheet only a few atoms thick, just like graphene. The ultrathin nature of a 2-D TMD nanosheet allows for a great many more TMD molecules to be exposed during the catalysis process

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Chemical Tankers Market Research Report by Product Type, by Fleet Type, by Fleet Size – Global Forecast to 2025

Chemical Tankers Market Research Report by Product Type (Inorganic Chemicals, Organic Chemicals, and Vegetable Oils & Fats), by Fleet Type (IMO Type 1, IMO Type 2, and IMO Type 3), by Fleet Size – Global Forecast to 2025 – Cumulative Impact of COVID-19

New York, Oct. 22, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Reportlinker.com announces the release of the report “Chemical Tankers Market Research Report by Product Type, by Fleet Type, by Fleet Size – Global Forecast to 2025 – Cumulative Impact of COVID-19” – https://www.reportlinker.com/p05913813/?utm_source=GNW

The Global Chemical Tankers Market is expected to grow from USD 26,935.84 Million in 2019 to USD 36,349.62 Million by the end of 2025 at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 5.12%.

Market Segmentation & Coverage:
This research report categorizes the Chemical Tankers to forecast the revenues and analyze the trends in each of the following sub-markets:

Based on Product Type, the Chemical Tankers Market studied across Inorganic Chemicals, Organic Chemicals, and Vegetable Oils & Fats.

Based on Fleet Type, the Chemical Tankers Market studied across IMO Type 1, IMO Type 2, and IMO Type 3.

Based on Fleet Size, the Chemical Tankers Market studied across Coastal, Deep-Sea, and Inland.

Based on Geography, the Chemical Tankers Market studied across Americas, Asia-Pacific, and Europe, Middle East & Africa. The Americas region surveyed across Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, and United States. The Asia-Pacific region surveyed across Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, South Korea, and Thailand. The Europe, Middle East & Africa region surveyed across France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Spain, United Arab Emirates, and United Kingdom.

Company Usability Profiles:
The report deeply explores the recent significant developments by the leading vendors and innovation profiles in the Global Chemical Tankers Market including Bahri, Iino Kaiun Kaisha, Ltd., MISC Berhad, Mol Chemical Tankers Pte. Ltd., Navig8 Group, Nordic Tankers A/S, Stolt-Nielsen Limited, and Wilmar International Ltd..

FPNV Positioning Matrix:
The FPNV Positioning Matrix evaluates and categorizes the vendors in the Chemical Tankers Market on the basis of Business Strategy (Business Growth, Industry Coverage, Financial Viability, and Channel Support) and Product Satisfaction (Value for Money, Ease of Use, Product Features, and Customer Support) that aids businesses in better decision making and understanding the competitive landscape.

Competitive Strategic Window:
The Competitive Strategic Window analyses the competitive landscape in terms of markets, applications, and geographies. The Competitive Strategic Window helps the vendor define an alignment or fit between their capabilities and opportunities for future growth prospects. During a forecast period, it defines the optimal or favorable fit for the vendors to adopt successive merger and acquisition strategies, geography expansion, research & development, and new product introduction strategies to execute further business expansion and growth.

Cumulative Impact of COVID-19:
COVID-19 is an incomparable global public health emergency that has affected almost every industry, so for and, the long-term effects projected to impact the industry growth during the forecast period. Our ongoing research amplifies our research framework to ensure the inclusion of underlaying COVID-19 issues and potential

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Researchers at the forefront of developing machine learning methods for chemical discovery

chemical
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

The discovery and formulation of new drugs, antivirals, antibiotics and in general chemicals with tailored properties is a long and painstaking process. Interdisciplinary research at the crossroads of biochemistry, physics and computer science can change this. The development of machine learning (ML) methods, combined with first principles of quantum and statistical mechanics and trained on increasingly available molecular big datasets, has the potential to revolutionize the process of chemical discovery.


“Chemical discovery and machine learning are bound to evolve together, but achieving true synergy between them requires solving many outstanding challenges,” says Alexandre Tkatchenko, Professor of Theoretical Chemical Physics at the University.

Machine learning to help identify drug candidates

The University initiated a collaboration with Belgian company Janssen Pharmaceuticals in spring 2020 to develop novel ML methods for identifying compounds that have a strong therapeutic potential (also called drug candidates). So far, ML approaches have been developed for small molecules. This research project aims to extend the architecture and transferability of quantum mechanics-based machine learning approaches to large molecules of pharmaceutical importance.

“The generation of novel chemicals with activity on relevant biological targets is the core business of pharmaceutical companies. Machine learning approaches have the potential to speed up the process and reduce failure rates in drug discovery. Having been approached by a leading pharmaceutical company to work together in identifying drug candidates is a gratifying sign of the industrial recognition of our expertise,” comments Dr. Leonardo Medrano-Sandonas, a postdoctoral researcher in Prof. Tkatchenko’s group.

Partner in an Innovative Training Network funded by the European Commission

Together with three large European pharma companies (Bayer, AstraZeneca, Janssen), the chemical company Enamine and ten academic partners with expertise in computational drug design, Prof. Tkatchenko has been granted the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions—Innovative Training Network grant for the project Advanced machine learning for Innovative Drug Discovery (AIDD) for the period 2021-2023. This project aims to develop innovative ML methods to contribute to an integrated “One Chemistry” model that can predict outcomes ranging from molecule generation to synthesis and understand how to intertwine chemistry and biology to develop new drugs.

Here scientific expertise joins forces with medicinal and synthetic chemistry expertise of the industrial partners, and benefits from large valuable datasets. For the first time, all methodological developments will be available open source. The training network will prepare a generation of scientists who have skills both in machine learning and chemistry to advance medicinal chemistry.

“Making accurate predictions using machine learning critically depends on access to large collections of high-quality data and domain expertise to analyze them,” explains Prof. Tkatchenko. “Putting our forces together is a first step towards a chemical discovery revolution driven by machine learning.”

The field of machine learning for chemical discovery is emerging, and substantial advances are expected to happen in the near future. Prof. Tkatchenko has recently published an article in the journal Nature Communications in which he discusses recent breakthroughs in this field and highlights the challenges for the years to come. The article is

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Chemical spill at Northeastern University lab prompts hazmat response

A chemical spill at Northeastern University in Roxbury prompted a level 2 hazmat response Monday morning, officials said.
A chemical spill at Northeastern University in Roxbury prompted a level 2 hazmat response Monday morning, officials said.Boston Fire Department

A Northeastern University lab in Roxbury was evacuated Monday morning after a chemical spilled, prompting a hazmat response, officials said.

Firefighters responded to 805 Columbus Ave. in Roxbury, the location of Northeastern’s Interdisciplinary Science & Engineering Complex, for the level 2 hazmat situation, the Boston Fire Department tweeted Monday morning.

“One of the lab techs was opening a container and it splashed,” said fire department spokeswoman Sharon Galloway.

The incident was small and contained, Northeastern University police said in a tweet at 8:33 a.m.

Two people were evaluated on-scene but not taken to a hospital, firefighters said.

The air quality was determined to be safe after the incident, the department said.

The lab was shut down and a clean up company was on its way, firefighters said at 11:15 a.m.

No further information was immediately available.


Breanne Kovatch can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @breannekovatch.

Source Article

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Long-term data show a recent acceleration in chemical and physical changes in the ocean

Long-term data show a recent acceleration in chemical and physical changes in the ocean
From L to R: Rod Johnson (BATS Co-PI), Emily Davey (Research Technician), Dom Smith (Research Technician) and Claire Medley (Research Technician) sample the CTD for dissolved O2 and CO2 aboard the R/V Atlantic Explorer during a routine Bermuda Atlantic Time-series Study (BATS) cruise. Credit: Ella Cedarhold, Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences

New research published in Nature Communications Earth & Environment uses data from two sustained open-ocean hydrographic stations in the North Atlantic Ocean near Bermuda to demonstrate recent changes in ocean physics and chemistry since the 1980s. The study shows decadal variability and recent acceleration of surface warming, salinification, deoxygenation, and changes in carbon dioxide (CO2)-carbonate chemistry that drives ocean acidification.


The study utilized datasets from Hydrostation ‘S’ and the Bermuda Atlantic Time-series Study (BATS) projects at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS). Both are led by Professor Nicholas Bates, BIOS senior scientist and the projects’ principal investigator (PI), and Rod Johnson, BIOS assistant scientist and the projects’ co-PI. Together, these time-series represent the two longest continuous records of data from the global open ocean.

“The four decades of data from BATS and Hydrostation ‘S’ show that the ocean is not changing uniformly over time and that the ocean carbon sink is not stable over recent time with variability from decade to decade,” Bates said.

Of the two sites, Hydrostation ‘S’ is the oldest, located approximately 15 miles (25 km) southeast of Bermuda and consisting of repeat biweekly hydrographic observations of temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen conducted through the water column since 1954. The Bermuda Atlantic Time-series Study (BATS) site is located approximately 50 miles (80 km) southeast of Bermuda. It consists of monthly sampling of the physics, chemistry, and biology of the entire water column since 1988. The study’s datasets represent more than 1381 cruises to Hydrostation ‘S’ from 1954 to 2020 and more than 450 cruises to BATS from 1988 to the end of 2019.

Long-term data show a recent acceleration in chemical and physical changes in the ocean
From L to R: Ella Cedarhold (Marine Technician), Claire Medley (Research Technician), Emily Davey (Research Technician), and Lydia Sgouros (Marine Techician) deploy an in-situ pump off the stern of the R/V Atlantic Explorer for proteomics sampling during a recent Bermuda Atlantic Time-series Study (BATS) cruise. Credit: Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences

Results showed that, over the last 40 years, surface temperatures in the Sargasso Sea have increased by 0.85 +/- 0.12oC, with the summer surface temperatures rising at a higher rate than winter. Additionally, the winter (

The data also show a trend of dissolved oxygen (DO) decline in the Sargasso Sea since the 1980s, representing a loss of ~2% per decade. Given the ocean warming observed in the Sargasso Sea, the researchers estimate that the warming impact on DO solubility would likely have contributed to about 13% of the total decline of DO over the past nearly 40 years. The remaining deoxygenation (~87%) must have resulted from the combined effect of changes in ocean biology and physics.

The BATS and Hydrostation ‘S’ time-series data allow direct detection

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