Science 2 min read

How Bacteria Contribute More to Climate Change



New research suggests that bacteria could increase climate warming at a faster rate than we had previously thought.

Bacteria and archaea – collectively known as Prokaryotes – account for almost half of the total weight of all organisms on Earth.

Like humans, most of these prokaryote release carbon dioxide during respiration. The amount of CO2, a prokaryote releases at any given time, depends on its respiration rate, which can change in response to temperature.

However, the link between respiration rate, temperature, and carbon output has remained hazy, until now. The researchers from Imperial College London conducted a study to unravel the mystery.

They compiled a database of respiration rate changes based on the temperature of 482 procaryotes. It turns out that most of these organisms produce more carbon in response to a higher temperature than we had previously thought.

In other words, the carbon output of bacteria and archaea is rising with the global temperature. And this increases climate warming at a faster rate than current models suggest.

Lead author of the new research, Ph.D. student Thomas Smithsaid:

“Most climate models assume that all organisms’ respiration rates respond to temperature in the same way, but our study shows that bacteria and archaea are likely to depart from the global average.”

The Relationship Between Respiration Rate and Rising Temperature

Individual prokaryotes can increase their metabolism in the short term – days to hours – to produce Co2, say the researchers. But, the organism’s metabolism becomes inefficient at a specific maximum temperature.

With time, the prokaryote communities could evolve to become more efficient at higher temperatures. Not only does this improved efficiency increase metabolism, but it also raises the carbon output too.

After accounting for changes in respiration rates, the team developed a mathematical model to predict the organisms’ carbon output. The result suggests a rise in atmospheric carbon, which is unaccounted for in the current ecosystem and climate models.

Lead researcher of the study, Dr. Samraat Pawar, described the effect of rising temperature the organisms as a “double whammy.”

On the one hand, it allows the prokaryotes to function more efficiently in both the short and long term. On the other hand, we get an even more significant contribution to global carbon and resulting temperatures.

Read More: Some Bacteria Beat Immune Systems Through Manipulation

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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