A German-led research team has discovered a microbe that eats ethane, the second most common component of natural gas (the other being methane).
Gunter Wegener, from the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, and colleagues found it two kilometres down in the Guaymas Basin in the Gulf of California.
They named it Ethanoperedens thermophilum, or “heat-loving ethane-eater”.
What is perhaps even more interesting is that laboratory tests suggest the microbe’s ethane degrading mechanism is reversible.
This means that its relatives could possibly produce ethane from carbon dioxide, which could have biotechnological applications. Wegener’s team is now searching for just such organisms.
“We are not yet ready to understand all the steps involved in ethane degradation,” says Rafael Laso Pérez, co-author of a paper in the journal mBio.
“We are currently investigating how Ethanoperedens can work so efficiently. If we understand its tricks, we could culture new archaea in the lab that could be used to obtain resources that currently have to be extracted from natural gas.”
Curated content from the editorial staff at Cosmos Magazine.
Read science facts, not fiction...
There’s never been a more important time to explain the facts, cherish evidence-based knowledge and to showcase the latest scientific, technological and engineering breakthroughs. Cosmos is published by The Royal Institution of Australia, a charity dedicated to connecting people with the world of science. Financial contributions, however big or small, help us provide access to trusted science information at a time when the world needs it most. Please support us by making a donation or purchasing a subscription today.