"A microbe discovered in a volcanic hot spring gobbles up carbon dioxide
“astonishingly quickly”, according to the scientists who found it.
The researchers hope to utilise microbes that have naturally evolved to absorb
CO2 as an efficient way of removing the greenhouse gas from the atmosphere.
Ending the burning of fossil fuels is critical in ending the climate crisis,
but most scientists agree CO2 will also need to be sucked from the air to limit
The new microbe, a cyanobacterium, was discovered in September in volcanic
seeps near the Italian island of Vulcano, where the water contains high levels
of CO2. The researchers said the bug turned CO2 into biomass faster than any
other known cyanobacteria.
In February the team also explored hot springs in the Rocky Mountains in
Colorado, US, where levels of CO2 are even higher. Those results are now being
analysed. The researchers said all their data on microbes would be published
and made available to other scientists as a database that pairs DNA sequences
with banked samples of the bacteria.
Dr Braden Tierney, at Weill Cornell Medical College and Harvard Medical School,
said: “Our lead collaborator at Harvard isolated this organism that grew
astonishingly quickly, compared to other cyanobacteria.”
“The project takes advantage of 3.6bn years of microbial evolution,” he said.
“The nice thing about microbes is that they are self-assembling machines. You
don’t have that with a lot of the chemical approaches [to CO2 capture].”
The new microbe had another unusual property, Tierney said: it sinks in water,
which could help collect the CO2 it absorbs.
But the microbe was not a silver bullet, Tierney said. “There really isn’t a
one-size-fits-all solution to climate change and carbon capture. There will be
circumstances where the tree is going to outperform microbes or fungi. But
there will also be circumstances where you really want a fast-growing aquatic
microbe that sinks,” he said. That might include large, carbon-capturing ponds,
he said. The microbe might also be able to produce a useful bioplastic."
*** Xanni ***
Chief Scientist, Xanadu
Partner, Glass Wings
Manager, Serious Cybernetics