How Deep Sea Bacteria Could Help Solve Climate Change

Scientists may have a new weapon against CO2 buildup and the struggle against climate change – deep sea bacteria. One rare bacterium can change industrial CO2 into chalk with the help of human scientists. It may not be a silver bullet, but perhaps it could be one more tool to keep future temperatures down.

It’s called Thiomicrospira crunogena, or T-Cru for short, and it produces an enzyme called carbonic anhydrase.

That substance reacts with water to convert CO2 into bicarbonate – which can then be used to make all sorts of products that don’t change the climate, like chalk and baking soda. The reaction is normally used to remove CO2 from organisms, but there’s a potential to use it in human industrial processes too.

T-Cru evolved on the sea floor near hydrothermal vents, where the pressure and heat are intense. That means the bacteria’s enzyme can work in equally extreme industrial environments, like when sucking CO2 from the flue gases produced by burning fossil fuels, according to Doug Bennett at the University of Florida Health.

A vent from the deep sea, a similar environment to the one T Cru is used to. [Image Credit: P. Rona/NOAA Photo Library] A vent from the deep sea, a similar environment to the one T Cru is used to. [Image Credit: P. Rona/NOAA Photo Library]The main idea is called sequestration, the capturing and neutralizing of the climate change gas CO2.

Exactly how that would work using the enzyme is what Professor Robert McKenna from the University of Florida and his two graduate assistants, Brian Mahon and Avni Bhatt, are trying to figure out.

The team’s findings, so far, have been published in two journals Acta Crystallographica D: Biological Crystallography and Chemical Engineering Science.

They also figured out that they can genetically engineer strands of E. Coli bacteria to produce Thiomicrospira crunogena’s valuable enzyme. That saves the trouble of going into the deep sea to try and collect the organisms.

Using the E. Coli, the team have produced several milligrams of carbonic anhydrase, and they believe they can ramp up production to the several kilograms that would be required for a practical application.

There’s still a major problem though – the enzyme doesn’t work fast enough. Avni Bratt explained further.

“You want it to do the reaction faster and more efficiently. The fact that it has such a high thermal stability makes it a good candidate for further study.”

The next steps are to increase the longevity and efficiency of the substance through testing different variants.

That’s something scientists like McKenna have been trying to accomplish for sometime.

As previously reported by the Inquisitr, progress on the policy has been picking up steam too. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, leaders of the two biggest CO2 contributing nations, spoke informally about climate change plans and strategies on September 25th.

Part of the discussion was a cap and trade system, which China hopes to unveil in 2017. China has already rapidly decreased the amount of coal they use as the country’s renewable energy sector continues to boom. China’s switch from coal was likely a contributing factor to the halt in the rise of CO2 emissions in 2014, according to the BBC.

Likewise, the U.S. has pledged to cut carbon emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 and plans to make companies apply for permits for their emissions.

When those policies get underway, the value of a bacteria like T-Cru and its enzymes might start rising.

Although that may be a ways off, Prof. McKenna is confident about the potential of the deep sea bacteria and its enzyme as a tool against climate change.

“It shows that it’s physically possible to take known enzymes such as carbonic anhydrase and utilize them to pull carbon dioxide out of flue gas.”

[Image Credit: David McNew/Getty Images]