Thursday, September 19, 2013

Ecosystems & Microbes

Deadly lack of focus on sciences
We know that the most prolific life forms on Earth happen to be microbes, but we know too little about them.

Up until now not much has been known about their impact on the global climate system.

The graphic (click to enlarge) map of the U.S. shows the highest paid public officials state by state, which surprisingly are coaches of sports teams rather than scientists --which gives us a clue as to why our science is lacking.

Today let's focus on why that is dangerous.

A group of scientists has taken a look at the impact of microbes on methane, a powerful green house gas that is a part of the global climate system:
A major question in ecology has centered on the role of microbes in regulating ecosystem function. Now, in research published ahead of print in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, Brajesh Singh of the University of Western Sydney, Australia, and collaborators show how changes in the populations of methanotrophic bacteria can have consequences for methane mitigation at ecosystem levels.

“Ecological theories developed for macro-ecology can explain the microbial regulation of the methane cycle,” says Singh.

In the study, as grasslands, bogs, and moors became forested, a group of type II methanotrophic bacterium, known as USC alpha, became dominant on all three land use types, replacing other methanotrophic microbes, and oxidizing, thus mitigating methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, explains Singh. “The change happened because we changed the niches of the microbial community.”

The pre-eminence of USC alpha bacteria in this process demonstrates that the so-called “selection hypothesis” from macro-ecology “explains the changes the investigators saw in the soil functions of their land-use types,” says Singh. The selection hypothesis states that a small number of key species, rather than all species present determine key functions in ecosystems. “This knowledge could provide the basis for incorporation of microbial data into predictive models, as has been done for plant communities,” he says.

“Evidence of microbial regulation of the biogeochemical cycle provides the basis for including microbial data in predictive models studying the effects of global changes,” says Singh.
(Microbial Changes Regulate Function of Entire Ecosystems). Also interesting is the part that viruses, which are also microbes, play in ecosystems:
There are an estimated 1031 viruses on Earth. That is to say: there may be a hundred million times more viruses on Earth than there are stars in the universe. The majority of these viruses infect microbes, including bacteria, archaea, and microeukaryotes, all of which are vital players in the global fixation and cycling of key elements such as carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus. These two facts combined—the sheer number of viruses and their intimate relationship with microbial life—suggest that viruses, too, play a critical role in the planet’s biosphere.
(An Ocean of Viruses). The impact that civilization is having on the ocean is obvious when we consider the mountains of garbage being dumped into it (New Continent Found - Garbage Gyre II - 4).

Less obvious but just as troubling is the impact that the toxic chemicals we are also dumping into the oceans and atmosphere has on microbial life:
Every cubic meter of air holds up to 100 million microorganisms, but the diversity and behavior of these microbes remains masked to microbiologists — until recently, that is ... microbes also help create the intricately beautiful designs in snowflakes and facilitate the formation of clouds ... Recent research published in PNAS suggests that the diversity of microbial life in the air is on par with the soil, at least in urban areas, yet the air remains vastly understudied in comparison.
(Atlas of The Atmosphere). It is possible that the damage air pollution does to microbes may cause genetic mutations in the human microbiome (The "It's In Your Genes" Myth - 2).

Environmental health or the lack thereof impacts civilization directly, so our pollution policies are very dangerous.

Those policies need to be changed forthwith to allow clean energy to take over and allow life to flourish.

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