Ocean bacteria are programmed to alter climate gases

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Watts Up With That?

microbes_sar11

CORVALLIS, Ore. – SAR11, the most abundant plankton in the world’s oceans, are pumping out massive amounts of two sulfur gases that play important roles in the Earth’s atmosphere, researchers announced today in the journal Nature Microbiology.

“Everyone knows these gases by their smells”, said Steve Giovannoni, a distinguished professor of microbiology in the College of Science at Oregon State University, and corresponding author of the study.

“One of these compounds – dimethylsulfide, or DMS – we recognize as the smell of the sea. The other gas – methanethiol – makes us think of leaking gas lines. In the atmosphere dimethylsulfide oxidizes to sulfuric acid, which some scientists think can seed cloud formation and alter heating of the Earth.”

What is most interesting, the scientists said, is that the newly discovered metabolic circuit is hardwired into cells. Normally, cells turn genes on and off, as they are needed, but…

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