About a Gas: Microbes Metabolize Methane
Methane, the principal constituent of natural gas, is formed from animal waste and rotting organic matter. As one of the major greenhouse gases, it has a fundamental role in the global biogeochemical cycle of carbon. Through a chemical reaction known as anaerobic oxidation, methane is transformed into carbon dioxide and hydrogen (in the absence of oxygen) by microorganisms living in marine sediment. AOM, as anaerobic methane oxidation is called, plays a significant part in the metabolism of these microorganisms. It also reduces methane flux - that is, the flow of methane gas from ocean to atmosphere.
AOM is the subject of geneticist Steven Hallam's research. He is particularly interested in its role in the metabolic processes of the sea sediment-dwelling microorganisms.
As the Canada Research Chair in Environmental Genomics at the University of British Columbia, Hallam is developing collections, or genomic libraries, of methane-oxidizing microorganisms from around the world. This extraordinary accomplishment will enable scientists to learn much more about the molecular mechanisms of AOM by screening the libraries for enzymes that trigger AMO.
Hallam's interest in these microorganisms also extends to the way they help to mediate both local and global biogeochemical cycles as well as their potential as catalysts for biotechnological development. In addition, he is working to improve special "genome-enabled" methods for monitoring their community dynamics, especially in relation to AOM.
Hallam's research will have far-reaching effects on areas as diverse as climate change, alternative energy development, and - through the discovery of new biocatalysts - on biotechnology.