Soil bacteria can help to control climate change

Soil bacteria can help to control climate change

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Soil bacteria can live on air – and also assist to control climate change.

Soil plays a significant role in regulating climate change than earlier thought according to a new study co-authored by an academic from Queen Mary University of London.

This study found that over 70% of soil bacteria can living off the small amounts of hydrogen, carbon monoxide and methane in the air, assisting to control atmospheric pollution.

Gas meeting energy needs

The findings, issued in Nature Microbiology, disclose that as many as 19 different bacterial groups (or phyla) can live on small gas amounts, allowing that oxidation of most of these trace gases is a generalist process, rather than an expert one as earlier recommended.

Dr James Bradley, Lecturer in Environmental Science at Queen Mary University of London and co-author of the study said: “We usually think of organic carbon being the main source of energy to soil microbes. Our findings shows that in fact, these soil microbes use trace gases such as hydrogen to get their energy needs.

“The response of hydrogen and oxygen emits a lot of energy – enough that it is frequently used in aerospace engineering to launch rockets into orbit. Now we know that these substitute reactions are widespread among soil microbes, and supply at least sufficient energy to meet their basic energy needs.”

Dr Bradley’s previous research on seafloor sediment, issued in 2020, revealed consequences for potential life in other parts of the solar system.

Implications for understanding bacteria

Led by Dr Sean Bay, Dr Eleonora Chiri, and Associate Professor Chris Greening from the Biomedicine Discovery Institute at Monash University, Australia, the recent study has suggestions for understanding how bacteria endures. 

“The remark that trace gases may tolerate most soil bacteria has extensive implications for understanding how bacteria outline the composition of the air we breathe, and for understanding microbial biodiversity and resilience in a changing world,” Dr Chiri said.

With bacteria accepting this flexible diet it gives researchers a new knowledge of how extensive and fruitful soils can be and how microorganisms familiarise to live in different environments. Bacteria with the metabolic flexibility to use both organic and mineral energy sources are likely to have a specific advantage in soil environments.

In normal environments, most microorganisms are not rising and instead exist in several dormant states, kind of “hibernating” during tough times. 

How they do so is not clear, and yet, research on microbial metabolism often emphases on comparatively few bacteria easy to grow in laboratory conditions, while supervising the dormant majority.

“Our study is rewriting our existing knowledge of how the dormant majority survives in soils, showing that its existence depends on an earlier unknown metabolic flexibility”, Dr Bay said.


Bay, S.K., Dong, X., Bradley, J.A. et al. Trace gas oxidizers are widespread and active members of soil microbial communities. Nature Microbiology (2021)

Study Geography at Queen Mary.

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About Zulker Naeen

Climate Journalist

Zulker Naeen is a South Asia Fellow at Climate Tracker. With three years of working experience, he has developed courses with the support of other Climate Tracker staff.

As a young climate advocate, his fellowship aims to share knowledge of climate change. Climate Tracker is a global media network closely works on Climate Change.

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Soil bacteria can help to control climate change



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