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.”
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