Ocean bacteria could be having a huge effect on climate

New research says bacteria’s affect on climate should be considered when making projections.

Researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) and Oregon State University are reporting they discovered a tiny bacterial organism that lives in the world’s oceans may be helping to control the climate on the planet, according to UPI.

The bacteria, Pelagibacterales, produces a significant amount of dimethyl sulfide (DMS), a gas that is known to have environmental qualities.  The researchers say they believe the gas acts as a cloud condensation nuclei.

Jonathan Todd, a biologist at UEA, commented in a news release, “These types of ocean bacteria are among the most abundant organisms on Earth — comprising up to half a million microbial cells found in every teaspoon of seawater.  We studied it at a molecular genetic level to discover exactly how it generates a gas called dimethyl sulfide, which is known for stimulating cloud formation.”

“This likely means we have been vastly underestimating the microbial contribution to the production of this important gas,” added Emily Fowler, a researcher at UEA.  Fowler worked on the bacteria’s producing DMS as a part of her PhD at the university.

Fowler continued by saying, “Excitingly, the way Pelagibacterales generates DMS is via a previously unknown enzyme, and we have found that the same enzyme is present in other hugely abundant marine bacterial species.”

The hypothesis, known as the CLAW hypothesis,  involves the sunlight increasing the amount of phytoplankton, which produces more dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP).  Members of the microbial community break down the DMSP into DMS, which through a series of chemical processes, increase the number of cloud droplets, decreasing the amount of sunlight reaching the planet.  The result is a stabilization of the temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere.

Dr. Ben Temperton, lecturer in the department of Biosciences at the University of Exeter, said, “This work shows that the Pelagibacterales are likely an important component in climate stability. If we are going to improve models of how DMS impacts climate, we need to consider this organism as a major contributor.”

The findings from the research were published in the journal Nature Microbiology.

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