Newly-Discovered Bacteria Could Be Superheroes For Our Planet!

Read on to find out how they are starting to help our world, one grain of soil at a time.

Apr 13, 2020

(VectorV / Shutterstock.com)

Did you know that bacteria are the oldest known form of life on Earth? Us humans were pretty slow in discovering them, as they weren’t identified until 1674! When most of us think of bacteria, we tend to think of how it makes us sick, but we aren’t really being fair! A lot of the bacteria in our bodies actually help us digest our food. What’s even more interesting is that we still haven’t identified most of the bacteria in the world. Three types of bacteria that we did manage to identify though, and just in the last couple of years, can actually fight climate change, including the recently discovered Madseniana! Now that’s a real superpower! 

Crenothrix can tackle methane
According to House of Switzerland, a website showcasing Swiss innovation, the first type of bacteria that can tackle climate change was discovered by a team of scientists from the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in 2017. They identified the thread-like bacteria that we now know as Crenothrix. Commonly found in lake water, it is really very good at consuming methane, which is emitted in significant amounts in most freshwater lakes. Unlike this bacterium, methane isn’t great for the environment. 

For one, the Environmental Defense Fund, explains that it traps heat in the atmosphere, which results in global warming. It is also extremely flammable. It is enormously useful to us because we use it primarily as fuel, but this greenhouse gas is bad news for the environment. These scientists now want to study Crenothrix more closely to determine if it could be introduced into freshwater lakes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

A modified E.coli that consumes CO2
Weekly science magazine, New Scientist, recently wrote about a second type of bacteria that could tackle climate change, a CO2-eating bacteria which was actually made by Israeli researchers in 2019. The researchers genetically altered E.coli to consume carbon dioxide. Having successfully transformed the way it grows, scientists are now trying to find out if genetically-engineered bacteria can be used to fight climate change. 

And introducing plant-friendly Madseniana...
A third type of bacteria is a new species of soil bacteria isolated from acidic forest soil. Recently discovered by six Cornell researchers whose findings were published in February 2020, it is named Madseniana, in honor of Gene Madsen, the microbiology professor who started the research. According to the American Society for Biology, soil bacteria helps plants grow. After RNA sequencing of the bacteria, which confirmed that this was a unique species of soil bacteria, the scientists began studying it in earnest. They soon realized that it was great at tackling biodegradation, in other words at breaking down pollutants in contaminated soils.

The researchers found that the bacteria are fed carbon by trees. They then degrade soil organic matter to feed nitrogen and phosphorous to the trees in a mutually-beneficial, symbiotic relationship. Madseniana can in fact degrade organic compounds, including carcinogenic chemicals and environmental pollutants that are released when we burn oil, coal, gas, or waste. 

This finding has enormous potential. As SciTechDaily puts it: “Understanding how bacteria break down carbon in soil could hold the key to the sustainability of soil and the ability to predict the future of global climate.”

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DAWN SCHUSTER, CONTRIBUTOR
Dawn is a writer, graphic designer & the owner of a fair trade clothing company that works with vulnerable women. Her dream is to empower women through ethical fashion & to connect women across the world. A true free spirit she has lived in England, Israel, Kenya & India.