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Bacteria Can Combat Dangerous Gas Leaks, Study Shows

Update Date: Apr 29, 2014 09:33 AM EDT

A single bacterial strain has the ability to mop up naturally-occurring and man-made leaks of natural gases before they are released into the atmosphere and cause global warming, according to a new research. 

The single bacterial strain (dubbed Methylocella silvestris) is found in soil and other environments around the world. The study showed that it can grow on both the methane and propane found in natural gas. 

Up until now it was believed that the ability to metabolize methane and other gaseous alkanes such as propane was carried out by different groups of bacteria. The new finding suggests a way that involves the use of single type of bacteria for mopping up the components of natural gas very efficiently. 

"Natural gas from geological sources contains methane, as well as substantial quantities of ethane, propane and butane," said Lead researcher Prof Colin Murrell, from UEA's school of Environmental Sciences, in the press release.

"We have shown that one microbe can grow on both methane and propane at a similar rate. This is because it contains two fascinating enzyme systems which it uses to harness both gases at once."

Researchers believe the findings could help mitigate the effects of the release of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Also the proposed method would work against both natural gas seeps in the environment and those arising from man-made activity such as tracking and oils spills.

"This is very important for environments exposed to natural gas, either naturally or through human activity. These microbes may play an important role in mitigating the effects of methane and other gases before they have a chance to escape into the atmosphere," added Murrell.

"These findings could be used to inform land use management decisions. For example areas where high levels of methane and propane are released could benefit from an environment rich in these microbes, which live naturally in soil."

The research has been published in the journal Nature.

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