It is interesting how not everyone is aware of the range of greenhouse gases that are harmful to the environment and could have devastating effects when released in the atmosphere. One of these not-so-well-known gases, yet 300 times more destructive to the ozone layer than carbon dioxide, is the nitrous oxide. It is released in the atmosphere through agricultural practices, sewage treatment and burning of fossil fuels.
A study conducted by Frank Loeffler, University of Tennessee, Knoxville–Oak Ridge National Laboratory Governor’s Chair for Microbiology, and his team of researchers was published in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The scientists identified new groups of microorganisms that consume nitrous oxide and have the potential to mitigate emissions as they convert it to nitrogen gas.
The enzyme encoded in the microbial genomes is the catalyst for this conversion reaction. Interestingly, the scientists established that its distribution across groups of microbes is much broader than initially thought.
Such microbes can be found in most soils and sediments. According to Loeffler, prior to the study, the predictions of nitrous oxide emissions were inconsistent, and were based on unknown processes. He is convinced that the identified abilities of these newly found large groups of microbes to consume nitrous oxide, provides great opportunity to the scientific community. Researchers are now going to be able to understand the ecological controls on global nitrous oxide emissions and improve existing models.
In addition, Loeffler is certain that these findings will contribute for better assessment of the influence of human activities on the ozone layer and potentially help in the battle against climate change.