It is postulated that the role of oxygen toxicity in the evolution of life strongly depends on the origin of molecular oxygen, due to the strong redox buffering capacity of Precambrian waters containing large amounts of ferrous and manganese cations. The critical selective pressure could be observed only after aerobic photosynthesis had been developed, due to the high local concentration of oxygen in close vicinity of photosynthesizing cells. It is also postulated that early oxygen-evolving organisms excreted a substantial part of this element in the form of hydrogen peroxide. As a consequence of the high reactivity of this compound with ferrous and manganese cations, an important percentage of iron deposits were produced with H2O2as a major oxidant after the development of aerobic photosynthesis. It is postulated that negatively charged extracellular polymers of simple pro- and eukaryotic organisms function as sacrificial targets of hydroxyl radicals and at the same time as extracellular equivalents of superoxide dismutases, in these two ways protecting cellular membranes against oxidative damage. The role of oxygen toxicity in developing aerobic mechanisms of iron uptake is also discussed. © 1991.
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