An abundant enzyme in marine microbes may be responsible for production of the greenhouse gas. Industrial and agricultural activities produce large amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Many bacteria also produce methane as a byproduct of their metabolism. Some of this naturally released methane comes from the ocean, a phenomenon that has long puzzled scientists because there are no known methane-producing organisms living near the ocean’s surface.
A team of researchers from MIT and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has made a discovery that could help to answer this “ocean methane paradox.” First, they identified the structure of an enzyme that can produce a compound that is known to be converted to methane. Then, they used that information to show that this enzyme exists in some of the most abundant marine microbes. They believe that this compound is likely the source of methane gas being released into the atmosphere above the ocean.
Ocean-produced methane represents around 4 percent of the total that’s discharged into the atmosphere, and a better understanding of where this methane is coming from could help scientists better account for its role in climate change, the researchers say.
“Understanding the global carbon cycle is really important, especially when talking about climate change,” says Catherine Drennan, an MIT professor of chemistry and biology and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. “Where is methane really coming from? How is it being used? Understanding nature’s flux is important information to have in all of those discussions.”
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Image Source: David Born