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From hot springs to rice farms, scientists reveal new insights into the secret lives of archaea

pact of archaea on global climate and nutrition. In recent years, scientists have discovered that methanogenic archaea play an important role in the build-up of methane gas in the atmosphere. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, methane is about 20 times more efficient at trapping atmospheric heat than carbon dioxide, the more famous greenhouse gas. A United Nations panel also found that methane levels in the atmosphere have increased by 150 percent since 1750.

It turns out that the international demand for rice is one of the main drivers of methane production on the planet. Studies have shown that rice farming contributes between 10 and 25 percent of global methane emissions, thanks in large part to methanogenic archaea, which crank out tons of methane gas when they break down organic matter in flooded rice fields. AGU panelist Ralf Conrad of the Max-Planck-Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology in Germany will describe a group of archaea known as Rice Cluster I, which he and his coworkers have identified as the predominant methane producers in rice paddies worldwide. Last July, Max-Planck-Institute researchers were the first to map the genome of Rice Cluster I species. This gene sequencing effort may one day help scientists find a way to reduce agricultural-based methane emissions through genetic engineering.

Non-extremophiles everywhere

''For many years, we always thought of archaea as extremophiles-halophiles [salt-loving], thermophiles [heat-loving], acidophiles [acid-loving] or methanogens [methane producers],'' Francis said. Indeed, some Crenarchaeota are truly extreme. The species Pyrolobus fumarii holds the world temperature record for surviving in waters of 113 C or 235 F, well above the boiling point.

''However, in the early '90s, it was discovered that non-extremophilic archaea were ubiquitous and abundant in the marine environment, but it was unclear exactly how these organisms were making a li
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Source:Stanford University


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