Of all the things that could be hazardous to your health, would you believe breathing oxygen makes the list?
Our bodies produce toxic chemicals in our cells, called oxidants, which we fight naturally and with foods that contain antioxidants like blueberries and dark chocolate. All forms of life that breathe oxygen must fight oxidants to live, even those forms we can’t see with a naked eye, such as bacteria. “If they don’t,” says scientist Colleen Hansel of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), “there are consequences: cancer and premature aging in humans, death in microorganisms.”
There are also environmental oxidants, such as superoxide. Neutralizing environmental oxidants, though, were only a worry for organisms that dwell in sunlight – such habitats cover a mere five percent of the planet. Until now, those habitats were the only place such environmental oxidants were thought to exist.
The first light-independent source of superoxide has been discovered by a research team — including scientists from WHOI, Harvard University, and the Colorado School of Mines — who say the key is bacteria common in the depths of the oceans and other dark places.