As the University of Texas at Austin announced, the microbes have been observed in hot springs in the Chinese province of Yunnan. In fact, they inhabit springs, geothermal systems and hydrothermal sediments around the world.
The scientists believe the finding could be an important factor in the fight against global warming. The microbes use a hitherto unknown form of metabolism not encountered in the study of simpler forms. And they could be a key link in the global carbon cycle.
The group of microbes has been given the name Brokarchaeota in honour of the U.S. microbiologist Thomas Broka. And they were not grown in a laboratory. Rather, they were identified by painstakingly reconstructing their genomes from bits of genetic material collected in samples from hot springs in China and hydrothermal sediments in the Gulf of California.
The scientists used high-throughput DNA sequencing and innovative computational approaches to piece together the genomes of the newly described organisms.
“And this is very important because marine sediments are the biggest reservoir of organic carbon on Earth. These archaea are recycling carbon without producing methane,” said researcher Valerie De Anda.
Scientists believe that global warming will lead to a serious reduction in the size of the territory occupied by permafrost and, as a consequence, the release of a huge amount of frozen organic matter.
As a result of this, organic residues which have accumulated over hundreds of thousands of years could quickly decompose under the Influence of the microbes – and that could lead to a release of large volumes of methane. But the discovery of the microbes could be used to safely decompose organic materials and produce other organic matter thanks to their unique metabolism, according to the scientists.