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A paradigm of fragile Earth in Priestley's bell jar

DOI: 10.1186/2046-7648-1-4

Keywords: Atmosphere, Carbon dioxide, Oxygen, Hypoxia, Photosynthesis, Plants

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Abstract:

A single male subject was placed within a sealed, oxygen-depleted enclosure (12.4% oxygen), which contained 274 C3 and C4 plants for a total of 48 h. A combination of natural and artificial light was used to ensure continuous photosynthesis during the experiment. Atmospheric gas composition within the enclosure was recorded throughout the study, and physiological responses in the subject were monitored.After 48 h, the oxygen concentration within the container had risen to 18.1%, and hypoxaemia in the subject was alleviated (arterial oxygen saturation rose from 86% at commencement of the experiment to 99% at its end). The concentration of carbon dioxide rose to a maximum of 0.66% during the experiment.This simple but unique experiment highlights the importance of plant life within the Earth's ecosystem by demonstrating our dependence upon it to restore and sustain an oxygen concentration that supports aerobic metabolism. Without the presence of plants within the sealed enclosure, the concentration of oxygen would have fallen, and carbon dioxide concentration would have risen to a point at which human life could no longer be supported.The Earth supports a fragile ecosystem, and its inhabitants depend for their survival upon complex interactions between them, which have developed over billions of years. Imbalance of one component in this bionetwork can have far-reaching effects on organisms whose existence relies upon the presence of other species. Despite the ability to alter their environment in diverse ways, humans are reliant for their survival upon an element derived primarily from plants and produced by chlorophyll during photosynthesis, oxygen (O2).Photosynthesis is arguably the single most important chemical process on our planet, and the first colour images captured of Earth from space revealed the vast green hues of the landmasses supporting plant life, confirming its dominance within our ecosystem. Using energy from sunlight, chlorophyll strips electrons fro

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