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Methane Consuming Microorganism could help Reduce Climate Change Effects

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Posted August 5, 2013

Methane gas is one of the main components heavily influencing the current climate change related processes. Therefore, scientists are trying to develop ways to reduce or even eliminate these effects by controlling the amount of methane in the Earth’s atmosphere. One of ideas to achieve this aim is to use the microorganisms which are capable of oxidizing methane gas.

In scientific paper published in Nature researchers from the University of Queensland describe the experimental use of specialized bioreactor fed with ammonium, methane and nitrate. Bioreactor itself contains a mixture of methane-consuming archaea single-celled microorganisms, which ‘digest’ the harmful gas.

a) Key bioreactor performance data during steady-state operation from day 230 to 260 after inoculation. The arrows indicate pulse-feeding events of nitrate and ammonium (black), and methane (white). Nitrate, ammonium and methane consumption, and dinitrogen gas production, can be observed. The concentration of nitrite was negligible throughout the experiment. b, Fluorescence in situ hybridization micrograph of the bioreactor community showing the dominant ‘M. nitroreducens’ population in large, dense clusters (green), smaller flanking Kuenenia cells (magenta) and other bacteria (blue). Image source: Nature.com

a) Key bioreactor performance data during steady-state operation from day 230 to 260 after inoculation. The arrows indicate pulse-feeding events of nitrate and ammonium (black), and methane (white). Nitrate, ammonium and methane consumption, and dinitrogen gas production, can be observed. The concentration of nitrite was negligible throughout the experiment. b, Fluorescence in situ hybridization micrograph of the bioreactor community showing the dominant ‘M. nitroreducens’ population in large, dense clusters (green), smaller flanking Kuenenia cells (magenta) and other bacteria (blue). Image source: Nature.com

Microorganisms which are capable of oxidizing methane before it achieves a full potential of greenhouse gas are important factor in natural environment. Scientists estimate, that approximately 90% of methane produced annually in our planet is consumed by so-called anaerobic methanotrophic (ANME) archaea. However, according to authors of the paper, it is quite difficult to cultivate pure cultures of these microorganisms in order to exploit their reverse biological methanogenesis pathway, i.e. ability to neutralize methane.

Research team from the University of Queensland explored a set of genes in a group of methanotrophic bacteria with aim to verify the idea that anaerobic methane oxidation in some of these microorganisms can be driven by consumption of nitrates.  The experiment including the use of previously mentioned bioreactors lasted for 350 days. As a result of this investigation, authors of the paper were able to identify the microorganism with the proposed name M. nitroreducens, in which a full reverse methanogenesis pathway was confirmed using the metagenomic sequencing of cultures contained in bioreactor.

The paper does not provide a very wide explanation about possible implications of this research, however, we can hope, that similar bioreactors containing methane-consuming microorganisms could be safely employed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions into planet’s atmosphere.

Source: Technology.org, story by Alius Noreika

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