Thursday, 25 August 2016

Microbes affect the world’s atmosphere


Microbiologists have discovered how a tiny yet abundant ocean organism helps regulate Earth's climate. They showed that these tiny, hugely abundant bacteria could make the environmentally important gas, dimethyl sulfide.

Research published in Nature Microbiology has revealed how a bacterial group called 'Pelagibacterales' plays an important function in keeping Earth's atmosphere stable.

The project was led by Prof Steve Giovannoni and Dr Jing Sun at Oregon State University, in collaboration with researchers from UEA among others. The researchers showed that these tiny, hugely abundant bacteria could make the environmentally important gas, dimethyl sulfide. Researchers at UEA identified and characterised the gene that is responsible for this property.

Dr Jonathan Todd from UEA's School of Biological Sciences said: "These types of ocean bacteria are among the most abundant organisms on Earth -- comprising up to half a million microbial cells found in every teaspoon of seawater.

"We studied it at a molecular genetic level to discover exactly how it generates a gas called dimethylsulfide (DMS), which is known for stimulating cloud formation.

"Our research shows how a compound called dimethylsulfoniopropionate that is made in large amounts by marine plankton is then broken down into DMS by these tiny ocean organisms called Pelagibacterales.

"The resultant DMS gas may then have a role in regulating the climate by increasing cloud droplets that in turn reduce the amount of sunlight hitting the ocean's surface."

For further details, see:

Jing Sun, Jonathan D. Todd, J. Cameron Thrash, et al. The abundant marine bacterium Pelagibacter simultaneously catabolizes dimethylsulfoniopropionate to the gases dimethyl sulfide and methanethiol. Nature Microbiology, 2016; 16065 DOI: 10.1038/nmicrobiol.2016.65

Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle

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