Zachary Senwo, PhD Professor, explores how organismal contributions can be used in the search for climate change solutions
Microbial biochemistry and microbially mediated processes are essential and vital biotechnologies in a world beset by growing climate catastrophes, changing climate and global heating. Organisms (microorganisms, macroorganisms, mesofauna, macrofauna) either contribute to or combat global warming and climate challenges by altering the compositions of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Once nitrous oxide (N2O) or laughing gas with a greater warming potential than CO2 is lost from soils it can remain in the atmosphere for decades. Organisms may also provide solutions that facilitate resource recovery while reducing carbon footprints. Agriculture accounts for 50% of anthropogenic sources of GHGs. Increase in GHGs over the decades have led to raising temperatures, increase in fire frequency, fluctuations in wet/dry climatic cycles, droughts incidences, heat waves, heavy rainfall, extreme frost and storms. Changing climatic conditions have enormous consequences on pathogens outbreaks, food production and security, ecosystem services and alterations of carbon, nitrogen and sulphur biogeochemical cycles in soils.
Mitigating GHGs emissions with Microbial Technologies
Bacteria, fungus, algae and archaea increase atmospheric CO2 fluxes to accelerate global warming via organic matter decomposition. Algae are among the most diverse groups of organisms on Earth, with over 100,000 different species. Algae have the potential of being key solution in decarbonising atmospheric gases. Algae will convert atmospheric CO2 into biomass, lowering CO2 concentrations to reduce or mitigate greenhouse effects.
Technologies aimed at increasing the capabilities of algal systems to capture carbon dioxide provides capabilities to decrease GHGs emissions. The interactions of organisms and climate need careful considerations because such interactions may seriously hinder ongoing and planned efforts to minimise climate-related problems. The staggering diversity of organisms makes identifying the potential players a scientific challenge; however, research studies involving climate change need to include the roles of organisms to rapidly changing environments. Identifying specific organisms in every ecosystem or ecological environment is clearly an unattainable goal, especially knowing that systems are dynamic and complex.
Scientific solutions in minimising climate change
Organismal contributions to climate change cannot be ignored in the search for scientific solutions to mitigate the problem. Microbial biochemists working collaboratively with other scientists in multidisciplinary research programmes and in coordinations with policymakers will provide answers to fundamental questions of importance.
Methanogenic bacteria are almost exclusively responsible for generating atmospheric methane under anaerobic conditions. Climatic changes can increase the abundance of cholera-causing bacteria and the incidence of the disease. Critical research of organismal contributions on climate change should include:
- Organisms and specific environmental substrates promoting climate change and global warming.
- Organismal associated processes linked to climate change and global warming.
- Mitigating trace gases active in climate atmospheric chemistry (eg, methane, nitrous oxides, nitrogen oxide, dimethyl sulphide, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide).
Growth-promoting bacteria and fungi in soils do sequester carbon into soils. Waghmode et al (2018), studied nitrifiers and denitrifiers abundance and microbial community structures associated with warmer temperatures in an agricultural ecosystem and revealed that warmer climates and dried soil conditions significantly increased ammonia-oxidising bacterial proliferations in comparison to reduced ammonia-oxidising archaea and denitrifying bacteria proliferations. Das et al (2019) suggested soil-borne plant pathogens are likely problematic if soil microbial antagonists are heavily impacted by extreme weather conditions. Bardgett et al (2008) highlighted the complex interactions and feedbacks that occur between microbes, plants and their physical environments, and the impact of other global changes amplifying climate-driven effects on soil organisms.
Methanotrophs bacteria prevalent in anaerobic environments consume methane for energy in the presence of methane monooxygenases enzyme (Ho et al, 2019). Using methanotrophs as biocatalysts in flooded agricultural soils to grow rice may ultimately lead to a reduction in atmospheric methane levels.
Scientists are committed to combatting climate change. However, the world must take an aggressive action in contributing to carbon neutrality (net zero emissions of GHG) and cutting carbon footprints to combat climate change.
A suggested approach is to use soil microbial inoculants in agroecosystems to sequester greenhouse gases. Scientists have only scratched the surface on the contributions of organisms to climate change science and global warming.
Microbes are extremely diverse and vary in how efficiently they sequester carbon. Their contributions to carbon sequestration via various mechanisms include metabolic activities that sequester carbon dioxide to form soil carbonates and plant biomass.
Linking organisms to climate change and global warming seems very challenging. Numerous microbes are unculturable and their functions poorly understood. However, new and improved molecular tools and techniques are enabling exploring uncultivable microorganisms and providing insights into underlying processes that regulate GHGs emissions. Greater efforts and studies are required to determine how effective these techniques could be used to mitigate climate change.
Mitigating climate change and global warming is a large and complex challenge and a goal that will require progress across many fronts. It’s time to engage the capabilities and capacities of the organismal world in combating this pressing human and global problem.
Bardgett, R., Freeman, C., Ostle, N. (2008). Microbial contributions to climate change through carbon cycle feedbacks. ISME J 2, 805-814. https://doi.org/10.1038/ismej.2008.58
Das S, Ho A., Kim PJ (2019) Editorial: Role of microbes in climate smart agriculture. Front. Microbiol. 10:2756. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2019.02756.
Ho, A., Kwon, M., Horn, M. (2019). Environmental application of methanotrophs. Microbiology Monographs. 32:231-255.
Waghmode TR, Chen S, Li J, Sun R, Liu B., Hu C. (2018). Response of nitrifier and denitrifier abundance and microbial community structure to experimental warming in an agricultural ecosystem. Front. Microbiol. 9:474. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2018.00474.
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