Newly discovered microbe is a methane-producing menace

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In Ohio, a study of Lake Erie by researchers at Ohio State University suggest underestimation of methane-producing microbes and the amount of methane being released into the atmosphere. Researchers discovered the first known methane-producing microbe that is active in an oxygen-rich environment, which is surprising since oxygen is supposed to be toxic to such microbes, called methanogens. They found that, in some cases, oxygenated soils contained 10 times as much methane as nonoxygenated soils because of this methan-producing microbe. The microbe is found in more than 100 sites across North America, South America, Europe and Asia and lives in rice paddies, wetlands and peatlands—even as far north as the Arctic.

“We’ve always assumed that oxygen was toxic to all methanogens,” said Kelly Wrighton, project leader and professor of microbiology at Ohio State. “That assumption is so far entrenched in our thinking that global climate models simply don’t allow for methane production in the presence of oxygen. Our work shows that this way of thinking is outdated, and we may be grossly under-accounting for methane in our existing climate models.”