Teeny-Tiny Ocean Microbe Plays Huge Role In Climate Regulation, Study Reveals

First Posted: May 19, 2016 04:10 AM EDT

An international team of researchers have recently discovered that a tiny ocean bacterium plays a significant role in regulating earth's climate. The minute organism, which belongs to the bacterial group Pelagibacterales, is one of the most abundant microbes on our planet. Incidentally, the organism forms about 500,000 of the microbial cells found in each teaspoon of seawater

A study published in journal Nature Microbiology suggests that the microbes help in stabilizing our planet's atmosphere by creating dimethylsulfide (DMS), an organosulfur compound that triggers the formation of clouds and is a necessary component to a negative feedback loop known as the CLAW hypothesis. According to the hypothesis, the atmospheric temperature of our planet is stabilized via a cycle where sunlight results in the abundance of certain types of phytoplankton. Consequently, the process leads to an increase in the formation of another compound called dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP). When DMSP is broken down by the microbes, it results in DMS that increases cloud droplets which subsequently reduce the amount of sunlight that hits the oceans' surface. Therefore, on the basis of the new research, Pelagibacterales plays an important role in the entire process and could be used to create improved models of how climate is affected by DMS.

"The research shows that the Pelagibacterales are likely an important component in climate stability," said Dr. Ben Temperton, bioscientist at UK's University of Exeter. "These organisms don't have the genetic regulatory mechanisms found in most bacteria. Having evolved in nutrient-limited oceans, they have some of the smallest genomes of all free-living organisms, because small genomes take fewer resources to replicate. "

Such forms of kinetic regulation are not unheard of in bacteria; however this is the first time that the microbes have been found to be so actively and intricately involved in the significant biogeochemical process. Furthermore, according to scientists it is more exciting to discover that the same enzyme that is used to generate DMS by Pelagibacterales is present in other hugely abundant marine bacterial species. The findings imply that the microbial contribution to the production of DMS has been vastly underestimated.  

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