A University of Queensland microbiologist is part of an international team that has identified a bacterial gene that may affect climate and weather.
Dr Phil Bond, from UQ's Advanced Wastewater Management Centre, and his former colleagues at the University of East Anglia in England, have found how a particular type of marine bacteria – Marinomonas – generates a compound that is a key component in global sulfur and carbon cycles.
“Marine algae can produce large amounts of a compound (dimethylsulfoniopropionate or DMSP) that when broken down by bacteria produces dimethyl sulfide (DMS),” Dr Bond said.
“DMS then enters the atmosphere and is thought to contribute to condensation of water vapour and cloud formation.
“These algae can be found in such large numbers in the world's oceans that the amount of DMS released can increase the reflection of sunlight by clouds which may contribute to a reduction in global temperature.
“The bacteria are opportunists here, that are likely getting something out of the DMSP degradation which causes the release of DMS. It is this process that also gives the sea its smell.”
Dr Bond isolated the bacterium Marinomonas from the east coast of the UK and the research team was able to identify the gene that is responsible for the bacteria being able to change DMSP to DMS.
Dr Bond said while the research unlocked a vital part of the microbial puzzle, still more work needed to be done.
“By finding how this process works, as we have done, it opens the door to further research into how these, and other similar bacteria, affect the global flux of sulfur and carbon and their impact on the climate,” Dr Bond said.
“This research really does show how integral something as simple as microbial interactions may be to our entire environment.”
The research was recently published in Science, one the world's top scientific journals.
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