Medical Microfiction: Stromatolites

The architects that built the world are long gone. Many aeons ago, they lived, labored, and died in mats in the shallows. Their offspring, architects also, plied the family trade atop the graves of their forebears, until they too passed. And so one biofilm atop the next, strange, striped stones emerged.

We remember them for the rocks, but the architects left something greater still. Together those venerable microbes spun sunlight into atmosphere, shaping the very air into the element which gives voice to speech and song.

We stand not on the backs of giants, but on the bones of bacteria.

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English: Stromatolites growing in Hamelin Pool...
Stromatolites: they’re rocks, but they deserve a little respect. They oxygenated the atmosphere! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Stromatolites are not technically “medical”, but they’re certainly a nifty piece of science, and one I was dying to share with you! First, let’s dissect the word. “Stroma” comes from a Greek word meaning mattress  or bed. “Lite” comes from the Greek for stone. As the story describes, stromatolites are fossilized stones that were formed by thin layers of bacteria dying off atop one another over a huge period of time. Think of them as something like coral reefs, but far older.

One of the most important ancient sources of stromatolites were the cyanobacteria responsible for transforming much of the methane in Earth’s atmosphere into oxygen, thus allowing creatures like ourselves to live, love, and breathe. We owe a lot to these little guys, and I wanted to take a moment to remember their inestimable contribution to our lush, green Earth. Those of you who have been reading my blog from the very beginning may recall that I’ve mentioned the Great Oxygenation Event once before, but I thought they were interesting enough to bring up again. I think it’s important to remember that while human beings dominate the planet now, all our accomplishments rest on the shoulders of those that did the work before us. Even the air we breathe is something to be grateful for; it came from somewhere.

What other parts of the natural world deserve our gratitude? What tends to get overlooked in our day-to-day shuffle?

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11 thoughts on “Medical Microfiction: Stromatolites

  1. Wow, I remember seeing stromatolites off the coast of Western Australia. It’s one of the most isolated parts of the world, where the water is clear as crystal and these little oxygen producing rocks still exist! Fascinating stuff – great post!

  2. I loved this story, and especially the last line: “We stand not on the backs of giants, but on the bones of bacteria.”

    And I agree with you….bacteria really don’t get the respect they deserve!

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