All life requires carbon and nitrogen. Without adequate quantities of each element sequestered in specific compounds life cannot survive. Ecologists note, too, that as the quantities of certain carbon- and nitrogen-containing compounds decline the quantity of vegetation likewise declines.
A team of six Dutch ecologists recently demonstrated that when comes it to carbon and nitrogen nutrients, too much of a good thing can be just as problematic as too little.1 The team raised a specific species of cyanobacteria under laboratory conditions. The species is known to produce a family of toxins called microcystins. The researchers cultured these cyanobacteria under varying amounts of carbon dioxide and nitrates.
The ecologists observed a strong correlation between the available quantity of carbon dioxide and nitrates and the amounts of microcystins produced by the cyanobacteria. Microcystins can be very toxic to a wide range of plants and animals, including human beings. Consequently, the team concluded that their “results are largely consistent with the carbon-nutrient balance hypothesis.”2 This hypothesis states that the quantity of carbon dioxide and nitrates available in the environment must be fine-tuned in order to maximize the biomass and biodiversity, to optimize the health of all species and maximize ecological stability.
For Earth to sustain the maximum biomass for the longest possible period of time so that humans can reap the benefits of enormous and diverse biodeposits, the quantities of both nitrates and carbon dioxide on the planet surface must be exquisitely fine-tuned. This new evidence for fine-tuning adds to the already very long list of terrestrial features that must be designed for the specific benefit of human beings. The discovery by the Dutch team shows once again that the more we learn about our planet and its life, the more evidence we uncover for the supernatural, super-intelligent design.
This new fine-tuning evidence does, however, raise another apologetics question. Why would an all-powerful, all-loving Creator make cyanobacteria that produce harmful toxins?
Back in 1999, five German ecologists proposed that “one possible function of microcystins is that they play a role in the defense of M. aeruginosa cells against zooplankton grazing.”3 In other words, without microcystin-producing cyanobacteria zooplankton would overconsume photosynthetic microorganisms. Since these microorganisms are the base of the food chain and are the primary producers of oxygen, as well as the primary consumers of atmospheric carbon dioxide, it is crucial for the Creator to provide a means of sustaining their populations at optimal levels. Likewise, since so many marine species depend on zooplankton for their food, zooplankton species similarly must be maintained at close to ideal levels. Evidently, one purpose of microcystin-producing cyanobacteria is to regulate the populations of both photosynthetic microorganisms and zooplankton. Meanwhile, the search for other purposes for microcystin-producing cyanobacteria continues with some initial results.4
- Dedmer G. Van de Waal et al., “The Ecological Stoichiometry of Toxins Produced by Harmful Cyanobacteria: An Experimental Test of the Carbon-Nutrient Balance Hypothesis,” Ecology Letters 12 (December 2009): 1326–35.
- Dedmer G. Ban de Wall et al., 1326.
- Thomas Rohriack et al., “Role of Microcystins in Poisoning and Food Ingestion Inhibition of Daphnia Galeata Caused by the Cyanobacterium Microcystis aeruginosa.” Applied and Environmental Microbiology 65 (February 1999): 737–39.
- Jimena Caenave et al., “Attenuating Effects of Natural Organic Matter on Microcystin Toxicity in Zebra Fish (Danio rerio) Embryos—Benefits and Costs of Microcystin Detoxication,” Environmental Toxicolgy 21 (February 2006): 22–32; Bojan Sedmak and Tina Elersek, “Microcystins Induce Morphological and Physiological Changes in Selected Representative Phytoplanktons,” Microbial Ecology 51 (May 2006): 508–15.