Why metals are the makers and breakers of life on earth


We will need something more than a blog post to understand the environment and how it operates. People from different educational background work at bits and pieces of this puzzle. One of these pieces is metals. It is metals that gave us humans the oxygen needed to survive. We humans and cyanobacteria cannot live together because oxygen is toxic to them. Irrespective of this fact, we both survive and we owe this to iron. Iron not only scavenges oxygen for the cyanobacteria but also helps chemical processes in the human body.

screenshot-books.google.com 2016-05-03 12-26-14

screenshot-books.google.com 2016-05-03 12-23-22
Understanding Earth by Frank Press

A list of life-supporting metals called the ‘metallome’ with illustrative biological functions is provided below:

Sodium: nerve function, osmotic pressure balance, and charge stability of cell
Potassium: nerve function, osmotic pressure balance, and charge stability of cell
Magnesium: plant photosynthesis, structure stabilizer
Calcium: skeletal structure forming (teeth, bones), control signal trigger
Vanadium: catalyst for oxygen reactions, possibly involved in oxygen transport
Chromium: possibly involved in insulin function
Manganese: activator of certain enzymes, plant photosynthesis Iron: oxygen transport and storage, electron transport catalyst
Cobalt: cell division, a constituent of vitamin B12
Nickel: hydrogen activation, catalytic protection from toxic superoxide
Copper: respiratory chain electron transport catalyst, catalytic protection from toxic superoxide
Zinc: super acid catalyst, enzyme activator, blood pH control
Molybdenum: nitrogen fixation in plants, oxygen atom transfer catalyst
Tungsten: oxygen atom transfer catalyst

Source: Nautilus

Last year, I had been to this exhibition on rocks, minerals, and fossils organized by the University of Mumbai, Centre for Extra-Mural Studies. It felt amazing to see these beautiful things. One of the organizers, who was probably one of the professors there took some extra effort to eradicate superstition. She announced to the public the hazards of believing in the healing powers of these stones. Following is the slideshow of the rocks I saw.

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University of Mumbai also hosts fun lectures such as this one:

What is the difference between rock, mineral, ore and metal? 

Rock is a solid heterogeneous mixture of one or more minerals. For example, granite is a mixture of the minerals quartz, feldspar, and biotite.


A mineral is a naturally occurring solid that has a crystalline structure and a definite chemical formula. For example, gibbsite is a mineral of aluminium with the formula Al(OH)3.


An ore is a rock that contains minerals in concentrations that are high enough for economical extraction. For example, bauxite is an aluminium ore. It is a heterogeneous mixture of various aluminium minerals and other materials such as silica and iron oxides.


The ores are then refined to produce the metals such as aluminium that we use in our lives.


In summary, rocks contain minerals, which in large concentration are called ores, and these are mined for metals.

Source: Socratic

The yin and the yang of this subject is that there are also toxic heavy metals that are detrimental to the the life on this planet. Heavy metals are naturally present in the earth’s crust just like other metals but what kills is the result of anthropogenic activities such as mining and smelting operations, industrial production and use, and domestic and agricultural use of metals and metal-containing compounds. These activities release unnatural quantities of heavy metals in the surroundings leading to bioaccumulation.

A fan of rocks yet? Head over to the Mineralists on Tumblr. Treat your eyes.


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