Newly discovered microorganisms contributing to climate change


Tuesday, 18 October, 2016


Scientists from The University of Queensland (UQ) have discovered a major group of organisms contributing to climate change. Their research, published in the journal Nature Microbiology, indicates that the previously unknown group of methane-metabolising microorganisms appears to be ancient and widespread in nature.

Professor Gene Tyson, deputy head of UQ’s Australian Centre for Ecogenomics, said methane-producing and -consuming organisms play an important role in greenhouse gas emissions and consumption, contributing to climate change. He noted, “Traditionally, these type of methane-metabolising organisms occur within a single cluster of microorganisms called Euryarchaeota.”

Last year, Professor Tyson was part of an international project that discovered a new group of methane-metabolising organisms called Bathyarchaeota, found in a wide range of environments. Now he has witnessed the discovery of yet another methane-producing cluster, whose environment apparently includes wetlands, lake and river estuary sediments, mud volcanoes and deep-sea vents.

“We have now found two new clusters of microorganisms, leading us to wonder how many other types of methane-metabolising microorganisms are out there,” Professor Tyson said.

Lead author Dr Inka Vanwonterghem said the newly discovered methanogens — proposed to be named Verstraetearchaeota after eminent microbiologist Professor Willy Verstraete — so far appear to contain five genomes, but that there could well be more.

“There are many questions we will need to answer in future, including ‘can these organisms be grown in the lab and at large scale to produce methane?’, ‘what is their role in the global carbon cycle and climate change?’ and ‘what is the evolutionary history of these organisms?’” she said.

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