Who pioneered the cycle-of-life?

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“Circle of Life” is the powerful opening song of the movie The Lion King. Many would remember the movie’s iconic opening sequence, with the song set against the awe-inspiring backdrop of a red rising sun and the African savannah. The song title has roots in ecology and earth science. The “cycle-of-life” concept was pioneered by Sergei Winogradsky (born on 1 September 1856), a Russian microbiologist, ecologist and soil scientist. Winogradsky discovered several “cycles-of-life”, where substances are constantly recycled through the natural environment. These recycling pathways, known as biogeochemical cycles, exist because matter cannot be created or destroyed. Three important biogeochemical cycles are the water cycle, the carbon cycle, and the nitrogen cycle.

Winogradsky most notable contribution was the discovery of chemosynthesis, a component of the carbon cycle. In chemosynthesis, organisms derive energy through inorganic chemical reactions of carbon-containing molecules and nutrients such as carbon dioxide and methane (a different process to photosynthesis, which uses sunlight as a source of energy).

In The Lion King, a simpler explanation of the cycle-of-life is given to young Simba. “Everything you see exists together in a delicate balance,” says his father Mufasa. “As king, you need to understand that balance and respect all the creatures, from the crawling ant to the leaping antelope.” Confused, Simba asks, “But, Dad, don’t we eat the antelope?” Mufasa answers patiently, “Yes, Simba, but let me explain. When we die, our bodies become the grass and the antelope eat the grass. And so, we are all connected in the great Circle of Life.”