Neoproterozoic copper cycling, and the rise of metazoans

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Abstract

The rise of animal life is temporally related to the increased availability of oxygen in the hydrosphere and atmosphere during the Neoproterozoic. However, the earliest metazoans probably needed relatively low oxygen concentrations, suggesting additional environmental and/or biochemical developments were involved. Copper was required in the exploitation of oxygen by the evolving animals, through the development of respiratory proteins and the extracellular matrix required for structural support. We synthesize global data demonstrating a marked enrichment of copper in the Earth’s crust that coincided with the biological use of oxygen, and this new biological use of copper. The copper enrichment was likely recycled into the surface environment by weathering of basalt and other magmatic rocks, at copper liberation rates up to 300 times that of typical granitic terrain. The weathering of basalts also triggered the Sturtian glaciation, which accelerated erosion. We postulate that the coincidence of a high availability of copper, along with increased oxygen levels, for the first time during the Neoproterozoic supported the critical advances of respiration and structural support in evolving animals.

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Parnell, J., & Boyce, A. J. (2019). Neoproterozoic copper cycling, and the rise of metazoans. Scientific Reports, 9(1). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-40484-y

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