Image Credit: Down to the wire (IMAGE), Yale University
Topics: Biotechnology, Civilization, Climate Change, Nanotechnology
Accelerated climate change is a major and acute threat to life on Earth. Rising temperatures are caused by atmospheric methane, which is 30 times more potent than CO2 at trapping heat. Microbes are responsible for generating half of this methane. Elevated temperatures are also accelerating microbial growth and thus producing more greenhouse gases than can be used by plants, thus weakening the earth’s ability to function as a carbon sink and further raising the global temperature.
A potential solution to this vicious circle could be another kind of microbes that eats up to 80% of methane flux from ocean sediments that protect the Earth. How microbes serve as both the biggest producers and consumers of methane has remained a mystery because they are very difficult to study in the laboratory. In Nature Microbiology, surprising wire-like properties of a protein highly similar to the protein used by methane-eating microbes are reported by the Yale team led by Yangqi Gu and Nikhil Malvankar of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Microbial Sciences Institute.
The team had previously shown that this protein nanowire shows the highest conductivity known to date, allowing the generation of the highest electric power by any bacteria. But to date, no one has discovered how bacteria make them and why they show such extremely high conductivity.