Most people do their best to avoid large concentrations of methane, but a new form of microbial life recently discovered at the University of Queensland can not get enough of the potent greenhouse gas.

In research recently published by the journal Nature, UQ scientists in collaboration with researchers at the Australian Centre for Ecogenomics have discovered a miniscule being which turns methane into carbon dioxide while breathing nitrogen.

The previously unrecognised microbial process has formed a new link between the world’s nitrogen and carbon cycles. Advanced Water Management Centre Deputy Director Professor Zhiguo Yuan says: “This finding could potentially play an important role in the regulation of emissions of methane, a strong greenhouse gas, from aquatic environments to atmosphere, and also has great potential to revolutionise biological wastewater treatment.”

The research group took the discovery a step further, sequencing the genome of the novel micro-organism. The team believe it, or a new microbe derived from it, could help balance methane and nitrogen levels in the environment.

“Given the simultaneous presence of methane and nitrate in many aquatic environments, we believe this micro-organism could consume vast amounts of methane, preventing it from reaching the atmosphere,” Dr Gene Tyson said. 

The research project was undertaken over the course of several years by a multi-disciplinary team consisting of microbiologists and process engineers. Their work is accessible here.