No laughing matter – bacteria are releasing a serious greenhouse gas
Unlike carbon dioxide and methane, laughing gas has been largely ignored by world leaders as a worrying greenhouse gas. But nitrous oxide must be taken more seriously, says Professor David Richardson from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, speaking today (Monday 31 March 2008) at the Society for General Microbiology’s 162nd meeting being held this week at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre.
“It only makes up 9% of total greenhouse gas emissions, but it’s got 300 times more global warming potential than carbon dioxide”, says Prof Richardson. “It can survive in the atmosphere for 150 years, and it’s recognised in the Kyoto protocol as one of the key gases we need to limit”.
The potent gas is mainly coming from waste treatment plants and agriculture. Its release is increasing at the rate of 50 parts per billion or 0.25% every year. This means that it can be better controlled with suitable management strategies, but only if the importance of nitrous oxide (N2O) is widely recognised first.
“When faced with a shortage of oxygen, many species of bacteria can switch from using oxygen to using nitrates instead”, says Prof Richardson. “Nitrates can support their respiration, the equivalent of our breathing, and bacteria can get energy through processes called denitrification and ammonification. When they do this nitrous oxide is released into the environment”.
Municipal sewage treatment plants, landfill sites and marshy areas polluted with too much agricultural fertiliser are all places teeming with so many bacteria that there is a shortage of oxygen for all of them to survive using normal respiration alone. This means they need to use other respiratory strategies, which release nitrous oxide.
The researchers are using a combination of laboratory based studies, fieldwork and computer modelling to understand better the key environmental variables that make different micro-organisms release nitrous oxide.
“We are finding new biological routes for nitrous oxide emission that no-one ever suspected before. This could make a big impact on our environment”, says Prof Richardson. “Global warming affects everyone, and understanding the biology of nitrous oxide emissions will be an important step in mitigating their impact. We urgently need to start developing better strategies to improve management of these emissions in the agricultural and waste treatment sectors”.
Lucy Goodchild | alfa
The most recent press releases about innovation >>>
Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:
Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...