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 Hell’s 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 we’ve 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 world’s 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 are toxic to most life forms. The Maori caretakers of the site, the Tikitere trust, have supported scientific study of the area. The study was conducted while Dunfield was working for GNS Science, a geological research institute owned by the New Zealand government. He recently joined the U of C’s Department of Biological Sciences as a professor of environmental microbiology.
The bacterium’s genome has been completely sequenced by researchers at the University of Hawaii and Nankai University in China, which could help develop biotechnological applications for this organism.
Dunfield said he plans to pursue his work in Canada by hunting for new life forms in extreme environments such as northern peatlands, the oilsands of northern Alberta and the hot springs of Western Canada.
“Hot springs are exotic and extreme habitats, where you find a lot of bizarre organisms,” he said. “Bacteria are a fascinating group to work with because 95 per cent of them have never been studied in a lab and we have very little idea about what this huge amount of biodiversity is capable of.”
When corals eat plastics
24.05.2018 | Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen
Dispersal of Fish Eggs by Water Birds – Just a Myth?
19.02.2018 | Universität Basel
The more electronics steer, accelerate and brake cars, the more important it is to protect them against cyber-attacks. That is why 15 partners from industry and academia will work together over the next three years on new approaches to IT security in self-driving cars. The joint project goes by the name Security For Connected, Autonomous Cars (SecForCARs) and has funding of €7.2 million from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Infineon is leading the project.
Vehicles already offer diverse communication interfaces and more and more automated functions, such as distance and lane-keeping assist systems. At the same...
A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.
The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...
At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.
At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...
There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?
At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...
So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics
Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...
25.05.2018 | Event News
02.05.2018 | Event News
13.04.2018 | Event News
25.05.2018 | Event News
25.05.2018 | Machine Engineering
25.05.2018 | Life Sciences