Global warming affects microbes, rises methane gas

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View of lab collecting samples in the Baltic Ocean.
View of lab collecting samples in the Baltic Ocean.

New Delhi : Global warming is the key environmental concern today. Human activities have contributed to this threat which is subsequently leading to increasing erosion of land and climate change. The inflow of conductive particles can allow unusual electric partnerships between microbes causing to additional emissions of methane, which is intoxicating greenhouse gas.

Microorganisms work in strange ways. While some lives in extreme cold, under extreme pressure, in extreme heat, in extreme salinity or in extreme acidity. Some feed on organic material, while others prefer rock, chemical compounds or heavy metals.

Researchers mentioned that they have come across microbes that go for something totally different when looking for attractive living conditions.

In The Baltic Ocean, experts have discovered microbes that share a meal, which neither could efficiently eat alone. They establish their odd interaction by transferring electricity from one species to another via conductive particles. So they use the conductive particles to interact electrically with each other and outcompete anyone else that might be enticed by the same food source, explains lead author Amelia-Elena Rotaru from University of Southern Denmark.

This rather strange electric relationship via conductive particles is not only a biological curiosity but also prompts the production of methane, which is a powerful to greenhouse gas.

The team studied that the microbes required the conductive particles in order to thrive and release methane. Such particles might be of different origins, as many materials are conductive. One example is magnetite, which is an abundant iron-oxide mineral in Baltic Sea sediments. Magnetite is a type of particle which can be supplied to the seawater from land erosion.

Two microbes established a conductive particle driven association. These microorganisms are named Geobacter and Methanosarcina.

The study shows that as long as conductive particles were available, they both endured, but when conducting particles were taken away, Geobacter went extinct and Methanosarcina dramatically decreased its activity.

Not only do the two studied bacteria species benefit from this collaboration -- they also manage to keep other microbes (Methanothrix) attempting to compete for the same resources away.

In the Bothnian Bay, conductive particles can be supplied from river runoff from the eight rivers entering the bay from Sweden and Finland, and also via the runoff from the forestry industry and various coastal industries.

"This was the first time we could scientifically document a conductive particle based associations between bacteria and methanogens from environmental samples. We are now finding similar trends in other aquatic environments such as oceanic oxygen minimum zone, or lake sediments," said the lead author.

Amelia-Elena Rotaru and her team currently focus on finding a way to make microbes work for us to produce the chemicals of the future.

- If we can find a way to use the electric properties of microbes to store carbon and electricity while producing biodegradable and safe materials similar to those made today from fossil fuels we would have achieved our ultimate goal to foster a sustainable society, said Amelia-Elena Rotary.