Sulfate-reducing bacteria are among the oldest life forms on Earth. They are dominant in the geologic record from 3.9 to 2.9 billion years ago, an era in which oxygen concentrations in Earth’s atmosphere were relatively low. Researchers discovered not long ago that sulfate-reducing bacteria play a critical role in Earth’s sulfur and carbon cycles, both of which are essential for life.1 More recent studies reveal bacteria’s additional contribution to life sustenance.
Apparently, sulfate-reducing bacteria participate both directly and indirectly in removing poisons from Earth’s environment. Some of these bacteria remove low but deadly zinc concentrations from water. Others assist in the formation of certain ore deposits. These ores, in turn, remove poisons from the environment and, much later, contribute to the advancement of human civilization.2 For example, bacteria form precipitates of pure sphalerite (ZnS), which form ZnS ore deposits. Researchers now recognize that sulfate-reducing bacteria helped produce much, if not all, of the concentrated (thus economic to mine) ore deposits of iron, magnesium, zinc, and lead. Ores of trace metals such as silver, arsenic, selenium, etc., may similarly owe their concentrations (and accessibility) to bacteria.
The handiwork of the Creator seems evident. God created sulfate-reducing bacteria and then gave them about a billion years to work on Earth’s environment, making it safe for more advanced life and producing ore deposits that would vault the last-created species from stone age isolation to the technological age. Despite its potential for abuse, today’s technology places fulfillment of Christ’s Great Commission within the grasp of Christians alive today.
1 Crisogono Vasconcelos and Judith A. McKenzie, “Sulfate Reducers— Dominant Players in a Low-Oxygen World?” Science 290 (2000), 1711-12.
2 Matthias Labrenz et al., “Formation of Sphalerite (ZnS) Deposits in Natural Biofilms of Sulfate-Reducing Bacteria,” Science 290 (2000), 1744-47.