A colloquium was convened by the American Academy of Microbiology to deliberate issues relating to the intersecting fields of biological and geological sciences. The colloquium was held in Tucson, Arizona, December 1—3, 2000. The principal findings of the colloquium are summarized below.
A wide chasm may seem to divide the living from the non-living. On closer inspection, however, these two realms do not perch on separate ridges, but knit together to form a single lush domain. Geological and biological activities are integrated, and they influence each other in profound ways. This interplay has shaped the Earth and all creatures on it. Studies of geobiology—the present and past interactions between life and inanimate matter— promise to reveal the secrets of life, its origins and evolution, and its present functions on our planet. Such studies hold enormous practical potential as well.
Long ago, life arose from chemicals. As new creatures evolved, their activities changed the environment. The altered surroundings in turn invited different types of organisms, which again altered the world around them. Geobiological interactions have created the gases we breathe and the soil in our forests. They contribute to global warming and some forms of pollution, yet knowledge of geobiological processes offers strategies for remedying some of these problems and for enhancing the quality of life on our planet in other ways as well.
The new discipline of geobiology will provide a plethora of exciting intellectual and practical rewards. Geobiologists hope, for example, to discern how life began and how it evolved. Furthermore, they aim to identify how environmental conditions influenced these processes and, in turn, were altered by life. Understanding the past will equip us to predict the future. The Earth has already conducted many experiments over the course of its evolution, but, because of the complexity of geobiological interactions, we are unable at present to decipher our planet’s lab notebook. Current and future investigations will improve our ability to read the relevant records, interpret them, and make predictions based on past results.
Many geobiological processes affect environmental quality and impact human health, which in turn influence the economy and work force. As a result, critical public and science policy issues require input from this field. The study of geobiology offers significant payoffs that touch society in many ways. To exploit the possibilities, we need to focus diverse resources on this rapidly growing and tremendously promising new field.