Giving Metal to Microbes Could Reduce Greenhouse Gas


New research finds when microbes don’t get the metals they need, the result may be more consequential than previously understood

Like you and me, microbes need some metals in their diet to stay healthy. The metals help the microbes fully “digest” food. After a good meal, the microbes that gain energy by chemically reducing nitrate release a harmless byproduct: nitrogen, the gas that makes up 78% of Earth’s atmosphere.

But if one metal in particular, copper, isn’t available, these microbes can’t complete the biochemical “digestive” process, called denitrification. Instead of releasing nitrogen, they’ll release the potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide.

Previous lab studies using pure cultures have shown that copper availability was important for denitrification. Now research from the lab of Daniel Giammar, the Walter E. Browne Professor of Environmental Engineering at the McKelvey School of Engineering, and Jeffrey Catalano, professor of earth and planetary sciences in Arts & Sciences, both at Washington University in St. Louis, has shown that in the complex, dynamic aquatic environments these microbes call home, there might not always be enough copper available for denitrification.

Continue reading at Washington University in St. Louis

Image via Washington University in St. Louis