These microbes can change the composition of oil and natural gas and can even control the release of some greenhouse gases. Understanding the role of microbes in consuming hydrocarbons may therefore help us access their role in the natural control of climate change.
"Hydrocarbons like oil and natural gas are made up of carbon and hydrogen, they are among the most abundant substances on Earth," said Dr Friedrich Widdel from the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Bremen, Germany. "Even though we use them as fuel sources, they are actually very unreactive at room temperature. This makes them difficult to use as a biological energy source, particularly if there is no oxygen around."
For over 100 years scientists have known that microbes such as bacteria can use hydrocarbons like oil and gas as nutrients. But this process usually requires supplies of oxygen to work at room temperature. "Scientists were always fascinated by the microbes that do this because hydrocarbons are so unreactive," said Dr Widdel. "But it is even more surprising to find an increasing number of microbes that can digest hydrocarbons without needing oxygen."
"The striking diversity of micro-organisms that can break down hydrocarbons may reflect the early appearance of these compounds as nutrients for microbes in Earth's history; Bacteria and archaea living with hydrocarbons therefore may have appeared early in the evolution of life," said Dr. Widdel.
These bacteria and archaea thrive in the hidden underworld of mud and sediments. You can find them in sunken patches of oil under the sea, in oil and gas seeping out underground, and maybe even in oil reservoirs. Their product, hydrogen sulphide, may nourish an unusual world of simple animal life around such seeps via special symbiotic bacteria.
Scientists have identified particular symbioses between archaea and bacteria that are capable of consuming the greenhouse gas methane before it can escape from the ocean's sediments. Others that have been discovered contribute to the bioremediation or cleaning up of petroleum contaminated water supplies in underground aquifers.
"This astounding oxygen-independent digestion of hydrocarbons is only possible via unique, formerly unknown enzymes," said Dr Widdel. "By getting a better understanding of the way these enzymes and microbes are functioning we will also have a better understanding of natural greenhouse gas control and the way hydrocarbons are naturally recycled into carbon dioxide."
Lucy Goodchild | alfa
Despite government claims, orangutan populations have not increased. Call for better monitoring
06.11.2018 | Deutsches Zentrum für integrative Biodiversitätsforschung (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig
Increasing frequency of ocean storms could alter kelp forest ecosystems
30.10.2018 | University of Virginia
Biochips have been developed at TU Wien (Vienna), on which tissue can be produced and examined. This allows supplying the tissue with different substances in a very controlled way.
Cultivating human cells in the Petri dish is not a big challenge today. Producing artificial tissue, however, permeated by fine blood vessels, is a much more...
Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.
In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...
On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its homeport of Bremerhaven, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.
When choosing materials to make something, trade-offs need to be made between a host of properties, such as thickness, stiffness and weight. Depending on the application in question, finding just the right balance is the difference between success and failure
Now, a team of Penn Engineers has demonstrated a new material they call "nanocardboard," an ultrathin equivalent of corrugated paper cardboard. A square...
Physicists at ETH Zurich demonstrate how errors that occur during the manipulation of quantum system can be monitored and corrected on the fly
The field of quantum computation has seen tremendous progress in recent years. Bit by bit, quantum devices start to challenge conventional computers, at least...
09.11.2018 | Event News
06.11.2018 | Event News
23.10.2018 | Event News
14.11.2018 | Life Sciences
14.11.2018 | Life Sciences
14.11.2018 | Earth Sciences