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Lakehead University Magazine Spring/Summer 2008

Distinguished Instructor - Phil Fralick

Primordial Slime - The Genesis of Life

By Michael Ade Sekudo

Life today may have been started by pond scum! At least this is what Phil Fralick believes. He is a sedimentologist, Chair of the Department of Geology, and recipient of the Lakehead University Distinguished Instructor Award for 2007.

“I’m building a fantasy world of what Earth looked like at various times in the distant past,” says Fralick. “If we were sitting here 2.7 billion years ago, we would be on the side of a volcanic island surrounded by oceans with no atmospheric oxygen, just carbon-dioxide vapor like Venus’s atmosphere. The highest life form then was photosynthesizing cyanobacteria, better known as pond scum.”

Fralick’s research group was the first to show that billions of years ago Earth formed pockets of oxygen in delta areas around the planet. Rivers emptied nutrients into the oceans. Cyanobacteria fed on the nutrients and produced oxygen. And with oxygen came the evolution of more complex life forms including humans.

“Earth has changed drastically in the past, but the rate of change has always been slow except for catastrophic events like meteorites. The problem is what people are doing. We’ve thrown a major monkey wrench into Earth’s plan, so now we’re driving the system as opposed to the Earth driving her own system.”

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