Researchers say bacterial communication may affect how much carbon the oceans absorb
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — A previously unknown level of communication among ocean-dwelling bacteria may have a significant impact the Earth’s climate, according to new research by a team marine biogeochemists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
In marine environments, bacteria coalesce on tiny particles of carbon-rich detritus sinking through the water, sending out chemical signals to discern if other bacteria are in the neighborhood. If enough of their cohorts are nearby, then bacteria en masse commence secreting enzymes that break up the carbon-containing molecules within the particles into more digestible bits.
The source of carbon in the particles is atmospheric carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping greenhouse gas. Bacterial communication could lead to the release of carbon from the particles at shallower depths, rather than sinking to the ocean’s depths. According to the Woods Hole scientists.
This means that bacterial communication results in less carbon dioxide being drawn out of the air and transferred to the bottom of the ocean from where it cannot easily return to the atmosphere. This represents the first evidence that bacterial communication plays a crucial role in Earth’s carbon cycle.
“We don’t often think about bacteria making group decisions, but that is exactly what our data suggest is happening,” said Laura Hmelo, now at the University of Washington.
“So microscopic bacteria buffer the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere through their ‘conversations,’ ” said researcher Benjamin Van Mooy. “I think it’s amazing that there are a near- infinite number of these conversations going on in the ocean right now, and they are affecting Earth’s carbon cycle.”
The paper is published in the current online, “early view,” issue of Environmental Microbiology Reports.
Filed under: climate and weather, Environment, global warming, Summit County news Tagged: | carbon cycle, Earth, Environment, Greenhouse gas, Ocean, Summit County News, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution