A new species of bacteria discovered living in one of the most extreme environments on Earth could yield a tool in the fight against global warming.
In a paper published today in the prestigious science journal Nature, U of C biology professor Peter Dunfield and colleagues describe the methane-eating microorganism they found in the geothermal field known as Hells Gate, near the city of Rotorua in New Zealand. It is the hardiest methanotrophic bacterium yet discovered, which makes it a likely candidate for use in reducing methane gas emissions from landfills, mines, industrial wastes, geothermal power plants and other sources.
This is a really tough methane-consuming organism that lives in a much more acidic environment than any weve seen before, said Dunfield, who is the lead author of the paper. It belongs to a rather mysterious family of bacteria (called Verrucomicrobia) that are found everywhere but are very difficult to grow in the laboratory.
Methanotrophic bacteria consume methane as their only source of energy and convert it to carbon dioxide during their digestive process. Methane (commonly known as natural gas) is 20 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and is largely produced by decaying organic matter. Scientists have long known that vast amounts of methane are produced in acidic environments, not only geothermal sites but also marshes and peat bogs. Much of it is consumed by methanotrophic bacteria, which serve an important role in regulating the methane content of the worlds atmosphere.
Scientists are interested in understanding what conditions cause these bacteria to be more or less active in the environment says Dunfield, Unfortunately, few species have been closely studied. We now know that there are many more out there.
Dunfield has tentatively named the new bacterium Methylokorus infernorum to reflect the hellish location of its discovery where it lives in boiling waters filled with chemicals that
|Contact: Grady Semmens|
University of Calgary