Leipzig / Pasadena. Scientists of the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) in Leipzig and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena succeeded in capturing syntrophic (means "feeding together") microorganisms that are known to dramatically reduce the oceanic emission of methane into the atmosphere. These microorganisms that oxidize methane anaerobically are an important component of the global carbon cycle and a major sink for methane on Earth. Methane -- a more than 20 times stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide -- constantly seeps out large methane hydrate reservoirs in the ocean floors, but 80 percent of it are immediately consumed by these microorganisms. The importance of the anaerobic oxidation of methane for the Earth's climate is known since 1999 and various international research groups work on isolating the responsible microorganisms, so far with little success. Pernthaler and co-workers developed a new molecular technique to selectively separate these microorganisms from their natural complex community, and subsequently sequenced their genome. The findings were exciting: Besides identifying all genes responsible for the anaerobic oxidation of methane, new bacterial partners of this syntrophic association were discovered and the ability to fix N2 could be demonstrated. The work has been published in the current issue of the renowned Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
The beauty of small things revealed
Microorganisms are the unseen majority on our planet: There are more than 100 Million times more microbial cells than stars in the visible universe, accounting for more than 90 percent of the Earth's biomass. Yet, we have little idea what most of these bacteria and archaea are doing. It is not only their small size that makes them hard to study. Most microorganisms can not be grown, and thus studied, in the lab. But recent developments of new molecular techniques
|Contact: Tilo Arnhold|
Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres