NZ's volcanic bugs to tackle climate change

EXTREME HABITATS: Dr Carlo Carere (foreground) and Dr Matthew Stott (background) of GNS Science collect bacteria samples from the Rotokawa Geothermal Field. Picture by Jean Power (GNS Science)

GAS-GUZZLING bacteria living in some of New Zealand’s most extreme habitats could play a greater role in combating climate change than previously thought.

An international research team led by New Zealand’s GNS Science and Monash University in Australia studied methane-oxidising bacteria (methanotrophs) in the Taupo Volcanic Zone.

These “extremophile” bacteria are found around the world where methane is present and survive in high-temperature, highly acidic habitats.

Methanotrophs are globally important in capturing methane, a highly damaging greenhouse gas, before it enters the atmosphere.

Industrial companies are already using methanotrophs to convert methane gas emissions into useful products, including liquid fuels and protein feeds.

This new research, published in the International Society for Microbial Ecology Journal, showed methanotrophs also consumed hydrogen gas.

The finding has major implications for combating greenhouse gas emissions.

“It enhances our understanding of where methanotrophs are found in the environment and how they account for natural emissions,” said the study’s lead author, GNS scientist Dr Carlo Carere.

“But there are also applications in biotechnology, as these methane oxidisers can potentially be placed in bioreactors to convert emissions into a valuable resource.”

Growing in a range of conditions

By being able to use hydrogen as well, methanotrophs could grow better in a range of conditions, including environments when methane or oxygen were no longer available.

“This study is significant because it shows that key consumers of methane emissions are also able to grow on inorganic compounds such as hydrogen,” said co-author Dr Chris Greening, from the Centre for Geometric Biology at Monash University.

“This new knowledge helps us to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases."

Industrial processes such as petroleum production and waste treatment release large amounts of the methane, carbon dioxide and hydrogen into the atmosphere.

“By using these gas-guzzling bacteria, it is possible to convert these gases into useful liquid fuels and feeds instead,” Dr Greening said.

The methanotrophs research involved collaborators from the University of Otago, Scion, University of Manitoba, Montana State University and CSIRO. The study was supported by the Marsden Fund.

Dr Carere, a Canadian, said New Zealand was an amazing place to conduct such research.

“New Zealand has absolutely amazing geothermal areas, producing very unique habitats for bacteria.”

This study was the first stage of the project.

“We are still working through different hypotheses, including how methanotrophs behave in natural ecosystems and biotechnology applications.

“There are many more exciting studies to come,” Dr Carere said.

GAS-GUZZLING bacteria living in some of New Zealand’s most extreme habitats could play a greater role in combating climate change than previously thought.

An international research team led by New Zealand’s GNS Science and Monash University in Australia studied methane-oxidising bacteria (methanotrophs) in the Taupo Volcanic Zone.

These “extremophile” bacteria are found around the world where methane is present and survive in high-temperature, highly acidic habitats.

Methanotrophs are globally important in capturing methane, a highly damaging greenhouse gas, before it enters the atmosphere.

Industrial companies are already using methanotrophs to convert methane gas emissions into useful products, including liquid fuels and protein feeds.

This new research, published in the International Society for Microbial Ecology Journal, showed methanotrophs also consumed hydrogen gas.

The finding has major implications for combating greenhouse gas emissions.

“It enhances our understanding of where methanotrophs are found in the environment and how they account for natural emissions,” said the study’s lead author, GNS scientist Dr Carlo Carere.

“But there are also applications in biotechnology, as these methane oxidisers can potentially be placed in bioreactors to convert emissions into a valuable resource.”

Growing in a range of conditions

By being able to use hydrogen as well, methanotrophs could grow better in a range of conditions, including environments when methane or oxygen were no longer available.

“This study is significant because it shows that key consumers of methane emissions are also able to grow on inorganic compounds such as hydrogen,” said co-author Dr Chris Greening, from the Centre for Geometric Biology at Monash University.

“This new knowledge helps us to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases."

Industrial processes such as petroleum production and waste treatment release large amounts of the methane, carbon dioxide and hydrogen into the atmosphere.

“By using these gas-guzzling bacteria, it is possible to convert these gases into useful liquid fuels and feeds instead,” Dr Greening said.

The methanotrophs research involved collaborators from the University of Otago, Scion, University of Manitoba, Montana State University and CSIRO. The study was supported by the Marsden Fund.

Dr Carere, a Canadian, said New Zealand was an amazing place to conduct such research.

“New Zealand has absolutely amazing geothermal areas, producing very unique habitats for bacteria.”

This study was the first stage of the project.

“We are still working through different hypotheses, including how methanotrophs behave in natural ecosystems and biotechnology applications.

“There are many more exciting studies to come,” Dr Carere said.

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