Understanding Why There is Life on Earth
Biogeochemical cycles encompass all of the processes on Earth (biological, geological, chemical) that affect the distribution of elements. These cycles are essentially pathways by which chemical substances can move through the Earth’s biosphere, lithosphere, atmosphere and hydrosphere.
Micro-organisms can cause or accelerate these cycles—which, in turn, drive biological evolution and control conditions at Earth’s surface, including our climate. This co-evolution between life and the chemistry of the Earth’s surface is what created a planet that can support human and other complex life forms. In this sense, micro-organisms are agents of global change.
As the Canada Research Chair in Geomicrobiology, Dr. Sean Crowe’s goal is to better understand the relationships between microbial life and the chemistry of the Earth’s surface.
Crowe is making use of sensitive chemical analyses, computer modelling, state-of-the-art molecular microbiological tools, and experiments with bacterial growth to examine how microbial activity in the environment affects geochemistry. By pairing this knowledge with chemical analysis of geological samples, Crowe and his research team are reconstructing the co-evolution of life and Earth’s surface chemistry over billions of years.
Crowe is also applying knowledge of microbial metabolism and geochemistry for better ecosystem management and to improve our ability to forecast environmental change. His research will go a long way towards answering fundamental questions about how and why we now occupy a planet teeming with multicellular aerobic life, and will help chart a course towards sustainable environmental stewardship in the future.