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Methane-producing Microbe Thaws from the Permafrost

Scientists from The University of Queensland have discovered a microbe that is set to play a significant role in future global warming.

Ben Woodcroft of UQ’s Australian Centre for Ecogenomics said that the methane-producing microorganism was thriving in northern Sweden’s thawing permafrost in a thick subsurface layer of soil that has previously remained frozen. As vast areas of permafrost continue to thaw due to global warming, the microbes could flourish in organic matter and drive the release of methane gas, which would further fuel global warming.

Lead researcher A/Prof Gene said the findings were significant as “methane is a potent greenhouse gas with about 25 times the warming capacity of carbon dioxide,” and “this microorganism is responsible for producing a substantial fraction of methane at this site”.

The researchers showed that the organism and its close relatives live not just in thawing permafrost but in many other methane-producing habitats worldwide.

The team made the discovery, which has been published in Nature Communications, by obtaining DNA from soil samples and reconstructing a near-complete genome of the microbe. Woodcroft said that no one knew of the microbe’s existence or how it worked before the research discovery.