Hot spring bacteria could fight global warming
December 6, 2007
The microorganism, which feeds on methane and lives in a geothermal field known as Hell's Gate near the city of Rotorua in New Zealand, is described by University of Calgary Peter Dunfield and colleagues.
"This is a really tough methane-consuming organism that lives in a much more acidic environment than any we've seen before," said the paper's lead author Dunfield. "It belongs to a rather mysterious family of bacteria (called Verrucomicrobia) that are found everywhere but are very difficult to grow in the laboratory."
The researchers say the species is the hardiest "methanotrophic" bacterium yet discovered, "which makes it a candidate for use in reducing methane gas emissions from landfills, mines, industrial wastes, geothermal power plants and other sources," according to a statement from the University of Calgary. Methanotrophic bacteria consume methane — 20 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas — and convert it to carbon dioxide.
"Scientists are interested in understanding what conditions cause these bacteria to be more or less active in the environment" said Dunfield, "Unfortunately, few species have been closely studied. We now know that there are many more out there."
The bacterium's genome has now been sequenced by researchers at the University of Hawaii and Nankai University in China. Sequencing could help develop biotechnological applications for the microorganism.
Some scientists believe that such biological solutions will be the best way to address global climate change.
Bacteria can generate renewable energy from pollution, help fight global warming
Currently, most energy production generates carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming and local pollution. At the same time that carbon dioxide concentrations are rising in the atmosphere, fueling higher temperatures, burgeoning population growth of humans and livestock is producing ever-increasing amounts of organic pollution and waste. Now researchers at the Center for Biotechnology at the Biodesign Institute of Arizona State University are working on a way to solve both problems using bacteria to convert organic wastes into a source of electricity.