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Bacteria Could be a Key Defense Against Global Warming

Aug 27, 2015 11:49 AM EDT
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Bacteria that can oxidize methane are known as methanotrophs. Newcastle University scientists recently published findings on how this bacterium might help us combat global warming with biotechnological applications that exploit methane.

Their study, which was recently published in Nature, explains how methanotrophs are able to use large quantities of copper for methane oxidation.

"We have known that copper is a vital element for biological methane oxidation for over thirty years and this new information will really help us to formulate new strategies for exploiting these bacteria both in the laboratory and in the environment," Co-author Colin Murrell, Professor in Environmental Microbiology at the University of East Anglia, said in a statement.

The researchers identified new copper storage proteins called Csp that are present in a range of bacteria. These proteins store metal in a way that has not been seen previously. Since copper can be toxic to cells, the proteins' widespread presence among diverse bacteria raises important questions about how bacteria use the copper ions.

According to a news release, Methanotrophs are the primary biological mechanism for preventing too much methane from being released into the atmosphere, by consuming it for carbon and energy. To oxidize methane, methanotrophs use methane monooxygenase, which is an enzyme that requires copper or sometimes iron to work. Therefore, understanding how methanotrophs handle copper is vital for understanding other potential applications of these organisms.

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