Vital role for bacteria in climate-change gas cycle

Mar 29, 2010
The Colne Estuary in Essex is where the first coastal marine isoprene degraders were found. Credit: Terry McGenity

Isoprene is a Jekyll-and-Hyde gas that is capable of both warming and cooling the Earth depending on the prevailing conditions. It is an important industrial gas, necessary for the manufacture of important compounds such as rubber and vitamins, but very little is known about how isoprene is cycled in the environment.

Today, at the Society for General Microbiology's spring meeting in Edinburgh, Dr Terry McGenity reveals the identity of some crucial players in the gas cycle; isoprene-degrading bacteria that are able to intercept the release of isoprene into the atmosphere.

After being released by plants and algae, isoprene reacts with molecules in the atmosphere to produce ozone. It can also prolong the lifetime of methane in the air. Both ozone and are potent greenhouse gases that lead to global warming. Conversely, in certain conditions, isoprene can undergo to form aerosols that can increase cloud cover leading to cooling of the Earth.

Together with colleagues at the University of Essex, Dr McGenity discovered that that there are numerous types of bacteria able to consume isoprene before it even enters the atmosphere. These bacteria were found concentrated around coastal zones that are known to be hot spots of marine isoprene production by algae.

"The discovery will improve models that help us to predict how and other environmental factors affect isoprene flux and vice versa," said Dr McGenity. "Until now modelling the overall flow of isoprene from the sea to the atmosphere has been hampered by inadequate understanding of the main producers and consumers," he explained.

Interestingly, many of the isoprene-degrading bacteria can also break down alkanes (a major component of crude oil). "This suggests that algal-derived isoprene may help important oil-degrading to survive between spills," explained Dr McGenity.

An understanding of how isoprene is naturally cycled in the environment could have important applications across different industries. "Currently the chemical industry relies on isoprene derived from as a building block for the manufacture of compounds like vitamins and rubber, whereas algae could potentially provide a sustainable supply of isoprene for these uses." suggested Dr McGenity. "Equally, studying the enzymes involved in bacterial isoprene metabolism may lead to applications in the synthesis of important pharmaceuticals," he said.

Explore further: Lava from Hawaii volcano picks up speed

Provided by Society for General Microbiology

2.4 /5 (5 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Missing link of cloud formation

Aug 11, 2009

The discovery of an unknown hitherto chemical compound in the atmosphere may help to explain how and when clouds are formed. The discovery of the so called dihydroxyepoxides (an aerosol-precursor), is reported ...

Marine bacteria are cutting cooling gas emissions

Apr 05, 2006

Marine bacteria are reducing the amount of an important climate cooling gas given off from our seas and studies on enzymes from a model bacterium could help to understand this important process, say scientists today (Wednesday ...

Recommended for you

Icelandic volcano sits on massive magma hot spot

23 hours ago

Spectacular eruptions at Bárðarbunga volcano in central Iceland have been spewing lava continuously since Aug. 31. Massive amounts of erupting lava are connected to the destruction of supercontinents and ...

NASA sees Tropical Storm Ana still vigorous

Oct 24, 2014

NASA's TRMM satellite saw that Tropical Storm Ana was still generating moderate rainfall is it pulled away from Hawaii. The next day, NASA's Aqua satellite saw that wind shear was having an effect on the ...

User comments : 0