Friday, December 14, 2007

In the Fight Against Global Warming, Can We Get Microbes On Our Team?


In recent years, carbon dioxide has become a favourite target when it comes to global warming. Focus on carbon emissions has become prevalent in the media. Factories are being criticized for the amount of carbon they release into the atmosphere through industrial processes, and there seems to be a general shift in the public consciousness about the amount of carbon we all produce on a daily basis. This type of thinking is a great move for dealing with the issue of climate change, but in my opinion, I feel there should be a bit more attention paid to another greenhouse gas that could potentially have a greater affect on global warming: Methane. While factories and cars get a bad reputation for CO2 emissions, processes like wastewater treatment, cattle farming and rice cultivation get much less recognition for the large amounts of methane they produce.

The US Environmental Protection Agency states that methane is “20 times more effective in trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period.” The Earth has a huge number of natural sources of methane, and over time human activity has increased the amount of this gas present in the atmosphere. This is serious cause for concern over the future of our planet.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. Recent discoveries and research are giving new hope to a serious problem. In recent years scientists have discovered potentially useful strain of archaea called ANME-1. Colonies of these anaerobic methanotrophs were originally found at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean surrounding mud volcanoes. Their main source of energy is actually the methane released from the undersea volcanoes that they border. ANME-1 has since been found in water around the world and it is now understood that these helpful microbes aid in the regulation of methane in the atmosphere. This is thought to be done through a process called reverse methanogenesis. They seem to consume a great deal of methane in the ocean before it has the chance to reach our atmosphere. Since so much methane is found in the ocean, these bacteria are vital to keeping our atmosphere from being overwhelmed with the gas.

The potential for these bacteria to be harnessed for our own use is great, but the question is, can it actually be done? So far scientists have been unable to find an effective way of utilizing the microbes. They are slow growing and difficult to isolate in a lab setting. But I feel that this is something that should be delved into more. Of course our efforts to reduce climate change should be channeled into other ventures as well, but reducing the amount of methane in our environment could be a triumph against climate change. Perhaps in the future these helpful microbes will be better understood and may be a useful bioremediation tool.


Sources:
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/10/061018-volcano.html
http://www.mbari.org/news/homepage/2004/methane-bugs.html
http://www.biol.wwu.edu/young/revmet.ppt
http://www.epa.gov/methane/

Image:
http://earth.rice.edu/MTPE/hydro/hydrosphere/hydrosphere_who.html

1 comment:

Dominic B. said...

Interesting when you think that most of the population still think that bacteria are a bad thing and that we should try to eliminate them....