Deep-Sea Bacteria May Neutralize Greenhouse Gases by Storing Carbon Dioxide

First Posted: Oct 23, 2015 09:16 AM EDT

Deep-sea bacteria may actually be able to neutralize greenhouse gases. Scientists have found that a type of bacteria from the bottom of the ocean could be put to work neutralizing large amounts of industrial carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere.

Carbon dioxide is a major contributor to the buildup of atmospheric greenhouse gases. This gas, though, can be captured and neutralized in a process called sequestration. Most atmospheric carbon dioxide is produced from fossil fuel combustion, a waste known as flue gas. But converting the carbon dioxide into a harmless compound requires a durable, heat-tolerant enzyme.

That's where the new bacterium comes in. Known as Thiomicrospira crunogena, this bacterium produces carbonic anhydrase, which is an enzyme that helps remove carbon dioxide in organisms.

The bacteria lives near hydrothermal vents, which means that the enzyme it produces is accustomed to high temperatures. This is exactly what is needed for the enzyme to work during the process of reducing industrial carbon dioxide.

"This little critter has evolved to deal with those extreme temperature and pressure problems," said Robert McKenna, one of the researchers, in a news release. "It has already adapted to some of the conditions it would face in an industrial setting."

Of course, neutralizing industrial quantities of carbon dioxide will require a significant amount of carbonic anhydrase. In this case, though, the researchers found a way to produce the enzyme without repeatedly harvesting it from the seafloor in the lab.

However, this is just one challenge the researchers must overcome before using the enzyme in real-world settings. While it has good heat tolerance, it's not particularly efficient. This means that the researchers hope to produce a variant that's tolerant and also efficient, which could mean a whole new way to sequester carbon dioxide.

The findings are published in the journal Acta Crystallographica Section D.

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