Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Methane-eating microbes can use iron and manganese oxides to 'breathe'

13.07.2009
Iron and manganese compounds, in addition to sulfate, may play an important role in converting methane to carbon dioxide and eventually carbonates in the Earth's oceans, according to a team of researchers looking at anaerobic sediments. These same compounds may have been key to methane reduction in the early, oxygenless days of the planet's atmosphere.

"We used to believe that microbes only consumed methane in marine anaerobic sediment if sulfate was present," said Emily Beal, graduate student in geoscience, Penn State. "But other electron acceptors, such as iron and manganese, are more energetically favorable than sulfate."

Microbes or groups of microbes -- consortia -- that use sulfates to convert methane for energy exist in marine sediments. Recently other researchers have identified microbes that use forms of nitrogen in fresh water environments to convert methane.

"People had speculated that iron and manganese could be used, but no one had shown that it occurred by incubating live organisms," said Beal.

Beal, working with Christopher H. House, associate professor of geoscience, Penn State, and Victoria J. Orphan, assistant professor of geobiology, California Institute of Technology, incubated a variety of marine sediments to determine if there were microbes that could convert methane to carbon dioxide without using any sulfur compounds. They report their results in today's (July 10) issue of Science.

Using samples of marine sediment taken 20 miles off the California coast and about 1,800 feet deep near methane seeps in the Pacific, Beal incubated a variety of sediment systems including as controls, an autoclaved sterile sample, a sample with sulfate as a control and a sample that was sulfate, iron oxide and manganese oxide free, but live. She also incubated samples that were sulfate free but contained iron oxide or manganese oxide. She placed methane gas that contained the non-radioactive carbon-13 isotope in the empty space in the flasks above the sediment and tested any resulting carbon dioxide produced by the samples. All the carbon dioxide had the carbon-13 isotope and so came from the methane samples.

The sterile control showed no activity, while the live control without sulfate showed minute activity. The sulfate control showed the most activity as expected, but both the iron and manganese oxide-laced samples showed activity, although less activity than the sulfate.

"We do not think that iron and manganese are more important than sulfate reduction today, but they are not trivial components," said House, who is director of Penn State's Astrobiology Research Center. "They are probably a big part of the carbon cycle today."

One reason they are important is that some of the carbon dioxide produced reacts with both the manganese and iron to form carbonates that precipitate and sequester carbon in the oceans. Even if the carbon dioxide escaped into the atmosphere, it is a less problematic greenhouse gas than methane.

On the early Earth, where oxygen was absent from the atmosphere, sulfates were scarce. Without sulfates, iron and manganese oxides may have been essential in converting methane to carbon dioxide.

"Sulfate comes mostly from oxidative weathering of rocks," said Beal. "Oxygen is needed for this to occur."

While manganese and iron oxides are made in today's oxygen atmosphere, they where also formed by photochemical reactions in a low oxygen atmosphere. These oxides were probably more abundant in the early Earth's oceans than sulfates.

While Beal has categorized the more than a dozen microorganisms living in the sediments she used, she does not know which of these microbes is responsible for consuming methane. It might be one bacteria or archaea species, or it may be a consortium of microbes. She is trying to identify the organisms responsible.

The National Science Foundation and the NASA Astrobiology Institute supported this work.

A'ndrea Elyse Messer | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.psu.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Topologische Quantenchemie
21.07.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Chemische Physik fester Stoffe

nachricht Topological Quantum Chemistry
21.07.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Chemische Physik fester Stoffe

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Manipulating Electron Spins Without Loss of Information

Physicists have developed a new technique that uses electrical voltages to control the electron spin on a chip. The newly-developed method provides protection from spin decay, meaning that the contained information can be maintained and transmitted over comparatively large distances, as has been demonstrated by a team from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute. The results have been published in Physical Review X.

For several years, researchers have been trying to use the spin of an electron to store and transmit information. The spin of each electron is always coupled...

Im Focus: The proton precisely weighted

What is the mass of a proton? Scientists from Germany and Japan successfully did an important step towards the most exact knowledge of this fundamental constant. By means of precision measurements on a single proton, they could improve the precision by a factor of three and also correct the existing value.

To determine the mass of a single proton still more accurate – a group of physicists led by Klaus Blaum and Sven Sturm of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear...

Im Focus: On the way to a biological alternative

A bacterial enzyme enables reactions that open up alternatives to key industrial chemical processes

The research team of Prof. Dr. Oliver Einsle at the University of Freiburg's Institute of Biochemistry has long been exploring the functioning of nitrogenase....

Im Focus: The 1 trillion tonne iceberg

Larsen C Ice Shelf rift finally breaks through

A one trillion tonne iceberg - one of the biggest ever recorded -- has calved away from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica, after a rift in the ice,...

Im Focus: Laser-cooled ions contribute to better understanding of friction

Physics supports biology: Researchers from PTB have developed a model system to investigate friction phenomena with atomic precision

Friction: what you want from car brakes, otherwise rather a nuisance. In any case, it is useful to know as precisely as possible how friction phenomena arise –...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Closing the Sustainability Circle: Protection of Food with Biobased Materials

21.07.2017 | Event News

»We are bringing Additive Manufacturing to SMEs«

19.07.2017 | Event News

The technology with a feel for feelings

12.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA looks to solar eclipse to help understand Earth's energy system

21.07.2017 | Earth Sciences

Stanford researchers develop a new type of soft, growing robot

21.07.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Vortex photons from electrons in circular motion

21.07.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>