Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Lucky find off Galapagos

26.09.2006
Ocean scientists discover how bacteria produce propane in the deep seafloor

During an expedition off the South American coast, an international team of ocean scientists discovered that the gases ethane and propane are widespread, and are being produced by microorganisms in deeply buried sediments.

Prof. Kai-Uwe Hinrichs (Research Center Ocean Margins, University of Bremen), co-author Prof. John Hayes (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution), and colleagues report new findings on the production of energy-laden gases in a paper in this week's online edition of the renowned Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S.A. (PNAS). The findings suggest that microbes in the deeply buried, vast ecosystem below the seafloor carry out hitherto unrecognized processes, which are highly relevant to both our understanding of global element cycles and the metabolic abilities of Earth's microbial biosphere.

"In a way, the finding was coincidental," Hinrichs states. Onboard the research drilling vessel JOIDES Resolution, the geochemist, now at the University of Bremen but then at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), analyzed the gases in sediments buried up to 400 meters in the Equatorial Pacific off Peru. "We were swamped with samples: in nearly a thousand samples of up to 40 million-year-old sediment, we analyzed the gas content." Despite work shifts of up to 14 hours, the shipboard scientists soon had a backlog of unanalyzed samples, which turned out to be lucky. "When we later looked at the samples, we noticed that concentrations of ethane and propane were suspiciously high," Hinrichs adds. Soon the scientists realized that these gases were not artifacts or contaminants, but that they must have slowly escaped from the sediment.

The researchers began to wonder how to account for the presence of these gases. Normally, ethane and propane are known as typical products of fossil fuel generation at elevated temperatures and pressure, without direct involvement of microbes. In the PNAS article, the team argues that microbes played a key role in the formation of these hydrocarbons.

"Sediments contain organic material (the fossil remnant of oceanic plants and animals)," Hinrichs explains. "This material, a key ingredient in the carbon cycle, is the major food used by the deep biosphere. During its decomposition by microbes, acetate--the ionic form of acetic acid--is formed. We think that bacteria use hydrogen to convert acetate into ethane. Addition of inorganic carbon and hydrogen provides a route to propane."

In support of their hypothesis for a biological origin of the gases, the researchers point to several clues: "First, the sampling locations are remote from reservoirs of oil and natural gas, so that this source can be eliminated," Hinrichs says. "Moreover, the abundance of stable isotopes of carbon are markedly different from those in gases formed at high temperature," adds co-author John Hayes, a geochemist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).

Co-author Wolfgang Bach, geochemist and professor at the Bremer Research Center points out, "We also were able to demonstrate that under the conditions prevailing at depth, these processes could yield just enough energy for growth of bacterial communities."

The paper leads to several new questions that will be addressed in future work. In a current PhD project in the Organic Geochemistry Group at the Research Center Ocean Margins, experiments are being conducted to locate the sedimentary sites where the gases are hidden. "Interlayer spaces of clay minerals are the best candidates right now," Hinrichs says. Other experiments are currently being designed to find out more about how the gases are being formed. He adds, "One important goal right now is to study these processes under controlled conditions in the lab to verify or refine the proposed mechanism." Hinrichs knows that it may not be easy to simulate processes from the deep biosphere, but the geochemist hopes to identify and replicate the conditions needed to stimulate the microbes to produce a lot of these energy carriers.

Nancy Light | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.iodp.org

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology
22.06.2017 | Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft

nachricht How reliable are shells as climate archives?
21.06.2017 | Leibniz-Zentrum für Marine Tropenforschung (ZMT)

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>