The Bacteria That Made Life Possible Are Now Killing Us

Thanks to the St. Croix Watershed Research Station for sponsoring this video! To learn more about their work, visit

Aquatic cyanobacteria first oxygenated earth’s air, making human life possible; now, due to our actions, cyanobacteria are madly blooming once more, poisoning our coasts in the process

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To learn more, start your googling with these keywords:
Cyanobacteria: aquatic photosynthesizing bacteria often erroneously call blue-green algae
Blue-green algae: incorrect name often used for cyanobacteria because they are blue-green in appearance and can be confused with algae
Dead zone: coastal area where cyanobacteria blooms lead to anaerobic conditions, killing fish and other organisms
Mycrosystins: a class of toxic compounds released by certain cyanobacteria

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Credits (and Twitter handles):
Script Writer: Peter Reich
Script Editor: David Goldenberg (@dgoldenberg)
Video Illustrator: Sarah Berman (@sarahjberman)
Video Director: David Goldenberg (@dgoldenberg)
Video Narrator: Julián Gómez (@ittakesii)
With Contributions From: Henry Reich, Alex Reich, Kate Yoshida, Ever Salazar, Julián Gómez, Arcadi Garcia Rius
Music by: Nathaniel Schroeder:



Bargu S et al. Mississippi River diversions and phytoplankton dynamics in deltaic Gulf of Mexico estuaries: A review. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 221:39-52 (2019).

Berman-Frank I, Lundgren P, Falkowski P. Nitrogen fixation and photosynthetic oxygen evolution in cyanobacteria. Research in Microbiology 154, 157–164 (2003)

Carey CC et al. Eco-physiological adaptations that favour freshwater cyanobacteria in a changing climate. Water Research 46, 1394-1407 (2012)

Garcia AK et al. Reconstructed ancestral enzymes suggest long-term cooling of Earth’s photic zone since the Archean. Proc Natl Acad Sci 114:4619-4624 (2017)

Glass JB, Wolfe-Simon F, Anbar AD. Coevolution of metal availability and nitrogen assimilation in cyanobacteria and algae. Geobiology 7, 100-123 (2009).

Lyons TW, CT Reinhard, NJ Planavsky. The rise of oxygen in Earth’s early ocean and atmosphere Nature 506, 307–315 (2014).

Planavsky NJ et al. The evolution of the marine phosphate reservoir. Nature 467, 1088-1090 (2010)

Soo RM et al. On the origins of oxygenic photosynthesis and aerobic respiration in Cyanobacteria. Science 355, 1436–1440 (2017)

Tromas N et al. Characterising and predicting cyanobacterial blooms in an 8-year amplicon sequencing time course. ISME J 11:1746-1763 (2017)


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