Newly Discovered Deep-sea Microbes Eat Greenhouse Gases

Posted: Nov 29 2018, 8:40pm CST | by , Updated: Nov 29 2018, 8:49pm CST, in Latest Science News


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New Deep-sea Microbes Eat Greenhouse Gases
The view of the Guaymas Basin seafloor was taken through the window of the Alvin submersible. Credit: Brett Baker/University of Texas at Austin.

Researchers have discovered nearly two dozen new types of microbes in the extremely hot, deep-sea sediments that consume harmful greenhouses gases.

Nearly two dozen entirely new bacteria plucked from the bottom of the ocean can help limit greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The microbes were discovered in the deep-sea sediments of Guaymas Basin in the Gulf of California and use potent gases like methane and butane as energy sources to survive and grow. Since microbes have significant influence over global warming, primarily through the consumption of methane, the newfound species can help remove atmospheric greenhouse gases.

"This shows the deep oceans contain expansive unexplored biodiversity, and microscopic organisms there are capable of degrading oil and other harmful chemicals," said Brett Baker, University of Texas at Austin's Marine Science Institute. "Beneath the ocean floor huge reservoirs of hydrocarbon gases – including methane, propane, butane and others – exist now, and these microbes prevent greenhouse gases from being released into the atmosphere."

The new study represents the largest-ever genomic sampling of Guaymas Basin sediments. In the recent trip this month, researchers explored the areas of the basin that have never been studied before and collected the sediment from 2,000 meters below the surface where volcanic activity releases extreme heat and host unique microbial life.

Researchers report that the new species of microbes are genetically so different from anything observed before that they have been placed in new branches in the tree of life.

“The tree of life is something that people have been trying to understand since Darwin came up with the concept over 150 years ago, and it's still this moving target at the moment," said Baker, "Trying to map the tree is really kind of crucial to understanding all aspects of biology. With DNA sequencing and the computer approaches that we use, we're getting closer, and things are expanding quickly."

By taking samples of sediment and microbes in nature, researchers investigated interactions between microbial communities and the nutrients available to them in the extreme environment. The results not only revealed microbes’ genetic identity but also showed different nutrients they tend to consume.

"We think that this is probably just the tip of the iceberg in terms of diversity in the Guaymas Basin," said Baker. “So, we're doing a lot more DNA sequencing to try to get a handle on how much more there is. This paper is really just our first hint at what these things are and what they are doing."

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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