As the effects of greenhouse gases on climate change become increasingly apparent, scientists are leaving no stone (or field) unturned in their search for solutions. On Monday in PNAS, they reported that a small but mighty ally in the fight against climate change may be hiding right beneath our feet — and we’ve been destroying it without even realizing.
In the paper, European researchers report that they’ve isolated and grown a species of soil bacteria that lives on methane, the potent greenhouse gas that is second in importance only to the almighty carbon dioxide.
That bacterium is Methylocapsa gorgona, which lives in soil all over the Earth. Because it can live on methane present in extremely low concentrations, the feisty microbe can pull the gas out of the atmosphere and consume it, even when it’s not near a major source.
“We were lucky to get this atmospheric methane oxidizer in pure culture in the laboratory,” Mette Marianne Svenning, Ph.D., a professor of arctic and marine biology at The Arctic University of Norway and the corresponding author on the new paper, tells Inverse. Svenning’s group is the first to successfully isolate the bacterium responsible for methane storage in soil.
“Several research groups have hunted for these since it has been known that soil can take up methane from the atmosphere,” she says.