Biologists have discovered a new species of bacteria in New Zealand, which could fight global warming.
Found in one of the most extreme environments on Earth - a geothermal field known as Hell's Gate, near the city of Rotorua in New Zealand, these bacteria are described as methane-eating microorganisms by the biologists.
These microorganisms, known as "Methanotrophic Bacteria", consume methane as their only source of energy and convert it to carbon dioxide during their digestive process.
The new species is the hardiest "methanotrophic" bacterium yet discovered and,
makes it a likely candidate for use in reducing methane gas emissions from landfills, mines, industrial wastes, geothermal power plants and other sources.
Also, the bacterium's genome has been completely sequenced by researchers at the University of Hawaii and the Nankai University in China, which could help in developing biotechnological applications for this organism.
"This is a really tough methane-consuming organism that lives in a much more acidic environment than any we've seen before," said Dunfield, who is the lead author of the paper.
"It belongs to a rather mysterious family of bacteria (called Verrucomicrobia) that are found everywhere but are very difficult to grow in the laboratory," he added.
Scientists have long known that vast amounts of methane are produced in acidic environments, not only geothermal sites, but also in marshes and peat bogs. Much of it is consumed by methanotrophic bacteria, which play an important role in regulating methane content in Earth's atmosphere.
"Scientists are interested in understanding what conditions cause these bacteria to be more or less active in the environment" said Dunfield.
"Unfortunately, few species have been closely studied. We now know that there are many more out there," he added.
Dunfield plans to pursue his work in Canada by hunting for new life forms in extreme environments such as the Northern Peatlands, the oilsands of northern Alberta and the hot springs of Western Canada.