How Oceans’ Browning Process Helped Create Conditions for Complex Life Forms

Researchers have found evidence that a chemical process similar to the Maillard reaction, which occurs during the browning of food in the kitchen, might be taking place deep in the oceans.


This process, known as the Maillard reaction, involves converting small molecules of organic carbon into larger molecules called polymers, resulting in the creation of flavors and aromas in food.

However, the research team led by Professor Caroline Peacock at the University of Leeds proposes that this process has had a more profound impact on Earth’s history.

Enhanced Reaction on the Seafloor

The experiments conducted by the research team revealed that the presence of key elements, particularly iron and manganese found in seawater, significantly accelerates the Maillard reaction.

This finding suggests that over Earth’s long history, this enhanced reaction could have played a critical role in creating the conditions necessary for complex life forms to thrive on Earth.


The Link to Atmospheric Conditions

According to the experts, the Maillard reaction may have played a crucial role in raising oxygen levels and reducing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

When microscopic organisms in the oceans die, their remains sink to the seafloor and are consumed by bacteria, releasing carbon dioxide into the ocean.

However, the conversion of small molecules into larger ones through the Maillard reaction has led to the preservation of organic carbon on the seabed, limiting the release of carbon dioxide and allowing more oxygen to reach the Earth’s atmosphere.

Long-term Carbon Storage on the Seabed

The Maillard reaction results in the conversion of smaller molecules into larger, more stable molecules that are harder for microorganisms to break down.

As a result, these larger molecules remain stored in the sediment on the seabed for tens of thousands to millions of years.


This long-term storage of organic carbon has significantly impacted Earth’s climate over the last 400 million years, helping to limit variations in the Earth’s land surface warming to an average of approximately 5 degrees Celsius.

Estimation of Organic Carbon Lockaway

Through their modeling efforts, the scientists estimate that around four million tonnes of organic carbon are locked into the seabed each year due to the Maillard reaction.

This considerable amount of stored carbon plays a vital role in mitigating carbon dioxide release and regulating atmospheric conditions.

Implications for Modern-day Climate Change

The insights gained from this research could offer valuable lessons for addressing current climate change challenges.

Understanding the complex processes that affect the fate of organic carbon on the seafloor is crucial for comprehending Earth’s climate changes in response to natural processes and human activity.


Furthermore, these findings may guide the development of innovative approaches to managing climate change, particularly in the context of carbon capture technologies that rely on storing carbon in stable forms to prevent its transformation into carbon dioxide.

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