Feb. 14, 2001 WASHINGTON, DC (February 12, 2001) --Managing microbial activity can play a significant role in slowing adverse effects of greenhouse gases and other global environmental changes, according to a new report from the American Society for Microbiology (ASM).
The report, "Global Environmental Change: Microbial Contributions, Microbial Solutions," points out that the basic chemistry of Earth's surface is determined by biological activity, especially that of the many trillions of microbes in soil and water. Microbes make up the majority of the living biomass on Earth and, as such, have major roles in the recycling of elements vital to life.
Since the microbial world can contribute to as well as mitigate global change, its activities are important to understand as a sound basis for policy decisions and regulations.
"We must better understand the human-microbe partnership so that environmental decisions that impact microbial processes will achieve appropriate balances in the atmosphere and biosphere. Otherwise, we will be increasingly challenged by unprecedented environmental problems," predicts Dr. James M. Tiedje, Michigan State University, an author of the report who chairs ASM's Committee on Environmental Microbiology.
Microbial roles in global change include producing and consuming atmospheric gases that affect climate; mobilizing toxic elements such as mercury, arsenic and selenium; and producing toxic algal blooms and creating oxygen depletion zones in lakes, rivers and coastal environments (eutrophication). Furthermore, the incidence of microbial diseases such as plague, cholera, Lyme disease, and West Nile Virus are linked to global change.
The report makes four recommendations to enhance microbiological solutions to global change.
--Integrate understanding of microbiological processes from organism to ecosystem level. This will lead, in part, to an improved understanding of the global carbon budget, eutrophication and the changes in greenhouse gases that affect climate.
--Discover, characterize and harness the abilities of microbes that transform the active greenhouse trace gases and toxic elements.
--Establish multi-year research programs that draw on microbiology and partner disciplines such as earth and atmospheric sciences to gain an integrated understanding of complex global change problems.
--Begin training scientists and policy makers for the future's complex environmental problems.
Microbiologists working in broad, multidisciplinary research programs can help provide answers for a question of fundamental importance: How can microbial populations and activities be managed to sustain the biosphere and its diverse life forms while promoting human welfare?
The report, produced by ASM's Public and Scientific Affairs Board, can be accessed online at http://www.asmusa.org/pasrc/pdfs/globalwarming.pdf. Authors of the report include Dr. Gary M. King, University of Maine; Dr. David Kirchman, University of Delaware; Dr. Abigail Salyers, University of Illinois; Dr. William Schlesinger, Duke University, and Dr. James Tiedje, Michigan State University.
The American Society for Microbiology is the largest single life science society, composed of over 42,000 scientists, teachers, physicians, and health professionals. Its mission is to promote research and training in the microbiological sciences and to assist communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public to improve health, economic well being, and the environment.
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