The Evolution of the Earth and Its Atmosphere

  • Juan José PoderosoEmail author
Part of the Advances in Biochemistry in Health and Disease book series (ABHD, volume 16)


Earth is believed to have formed about 4.5 billion years ago. In the first 500 million years ago (Ma), a dense atmosphere emerged from vapor and gases that were expelled during degassing of the interior of the planet. These gases may have consisted of hydrogen, water vapor, methane, and carbon oxides. Prior to 3.5 billion years ago the atmosphere probably consisted of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, water, nitrogen, and hydrogen. The hydrosphere was formed 4 billion years ago from the condensation of water vapor, resulting in oceans of water in which sedimentation occurred. The most important feature of the ancient environment was the absence of free oxygen, which only began to persist in the atmosphere in small quantities about 50 Ma before the start of the great oxygenation event. This mass oxygenation of the atmosphere resulted in a rapid buildup of free oxygen. The rate of oxygen production by photosynthesis was slower in the Precambrian, and the concentrations were less than 10 % of the oxygen of today and probably fluctuated greatly. These fluctuations in oxygen concentration had little effect on life. The presence of oxygen allowed life with new opportunities. The origin of the mitochondria is related to the evolution of the earth. Mitochondria contain their own DNA, which is circular as in the bacteria. Mitochondrial ribosomes and transfer RNA molecules are also similar to those of bacteria, as are the components of their membrane. These observations led different researchers to propose an extracellular origin for mitochondria. The endosymbiotic hypothesis for the origin of mitochondria suggests that mitochondria are descended from specialized bacteria that somehow survived the endocytosis in another species of prokaryote or some other cell type, and became incorporated into the cytoplasm, providing a considerable evolutionary advantage.


Earth evolution Oxygen Atmosphere evolution Bacteria Origin of mitochondria 


  1. 1.
    Margulis L (1970) Origin of eukaryotic cells: evidence and research implications for a theory of the origin and evolution of microbial, plant, and animal cells on the precambrian earth. Yale University Press, New Haven, 349 ppGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Gray MW, Doolittle WF (1982) Has the endosymbiont hypothesis been proven? Microbiol Rev 46:1–42PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Andersson SG, Kurland CG (1999) Origins of mitochondria and hydrogenosomes. Curr Opin Microbiol 2:535–541CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Bullerwell CE, Gray MW (2004) Evolution of the mitochondrial genome: protist connections to animals, fungi and plants. Curr Opin Microbiol 7:528–534CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Martin W, Hoffmeister M, Rotte C, Henze K (2001) An overview of endosymbiotic models for the origins of eukaryotes, their ATP-producing organelles (mitochondria and hydrogenosomes) and their heterotrophic lifestyle. Biol Chem 382:1521–1539CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Koonin EV (2010) The origin and early evolution of eukaryotes in the light of phylogenomics. Genome Biology 11:209, Scholar
  7. 7.
    Martin W, Müller M (1998) The hydrogen hypothesis for the first eukaryote. Nature 392:37–41CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    von Dohlen CD, Kohler S, Alsop ST, McManus WR (2004) Mealybug beta-proteobacterial endosymbionts contain gamma-proteobacterial symbionts. Nature 412:433–436CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Hug LA, Stechmann A, Roger AJ (2010) Phylogenetic distributions and histories of proteins involved in anaerobic pyruvate metabolism in eukaryotes. Mol Biol Evol 27:311–324CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Lane N, Martin W (2010) The energetics of genome complexity. Nature 467:929–934CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Dutkiewicz A, Volk H, George SC et al (2006) Biomarkers from Huronian oil-bearing fluid inclusions: an uncontaminated record of life before the Great Oxidation Event. Geology 34:437–440CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Dole M (1965) The natural history of oxygen. J Gen Physiol 49S:5–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Frei R, Gaucher C, Poulton SW, Canfield DE (2009) Fluctuations in Precambrian atmospheric oxygenation recorded by chromium isotopes. Nature 461:250–253CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Butterfield NJ (2007) Macroevolution and macroecology through deep time. Palaeontology 50:41–55CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Butterfield NJ (2009) Oxygen, animals and oceanic ventilation: an alternative view. Geobiology 7:1–7CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Geological history of oxygen.
  17. 17.
    Holland HD (2006) The oxygenation of the atmosphere and oceans. Phil Trans R Soc B 361:903–915CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Berner RA (1999) Atmospheric oxygen over Phanerozoic time. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 96:10955–10957CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Emsley J (2001) Oxygen. Nature’s building blocks: an A-Z guide to the elements. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 297–304Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Instituto de Inmunología, Genética y Metabolismo (INIGEM, UBA–CONICET), Laboratorio de Metabolismo del Oxígeno, Hospital UniversitarioUniversidad de Buenos AiresBuenos AiresArgentina

Personalised recommendations