Scientists Uncover Secret Driver of Climate Change

Global Warming Climate Change Model

Scientists have discovered that viruses infecting microbes significantly impact climate change by affecting methane cycling. This study, analyzing DNA from various environments, shows that the environmental impact of viruses varies by habitat. The research underscores the complex relationship between viruses, microbes, and methane emissions, suggesting the need for further exploration into viral roles in climate dynamics.

Study reveals microorganisms, once infected, harbor novel genes for methane generation.

A recent study reveals that viruses that infect microbes contribute to climate change by playing a key role in cycling methane, a potent greenhouse gas, through the environment.

By analyzing nearly 1,000 sets of metagenomic DNA data from 15 different habitats, ranging from various lakes to the inside of a cow’s stomach, researchers found that microbial viruses carry special genetic elements for controlling methane processes, called auxiliary metabolic genes (AMGs). Depending on where the organisms dwell, the number of these genes can vary, suggesting that viruses’ potential impact on the environment also varies based on their habitat.

This discovery adds a vital piece to better understanding how methane interacts and moves within different ecosystems, said ZhiPing Zhong, lead author of the study and a research associate at the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center at The Ohio State University.

“It’s important to understand how microorganisms drive methane processes,” said Zhong, also a microbiologist whose research examines how microbes evolve in diverse environments. “Microbial contributions to methane metabolic processes have been studied for decades, but research into the viral field is still largely under-investigated and we want to learn more.”

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.

The Role of Viruses in Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Viruses have helped foster all of Earth’s ecological, biogeochemical, and evolutionary processes, but it’s only relatively recently that scientists have begun exploring their ties to climate change. For example, methane is the second-biggest driver of greenhouse gas emissions after carbon dioxide, but is largely produced by unicellular organisms called archaea.

“Viruses are the most abundant biological entity on earth,” said Matthew Sullivan, co-author of the study and a professor of microbiology at the Center of Microbiome Science at Ohio State. “Here, we expanded what we know about their impacts by adding methane cycling genes to the long list of virus-encoded metabolic genes. Our team sought to answer how much of the ‘microbial metabolism’ viruses are actually manipulating during infection.”

Though the vital role microbes play in accelerating atmospheric warming is now well-recognized, little is known about how methane metabolism-related genes encoded by the viruses that infect these microbes influence their methane production, said Zhong. Solving this mystery is what led Zhong and his colleagues to spend nearly a decade collecting and analyzing microbial and viral DNA samples from unique microbial reservoirs.

One of the most important places the team chose to study is Vrana Lake, part of a protected nature reserve in Croatia. Inside the methane-rich lake sediment, researchers found an abundance of microbial genes that affect methane production and oxidation. Additionally, they discovered diverse viral communities and uncovered 13 types of AMGs that help regulate the metabolisms of their host. Despite this, there isn’t any evidence that these viruses directly encode methane metabolism genes themselves, suggesting that viruses’ potential impact on the methane cycling varies by their habitat, said Zhong.

Livestock and Environmental Impacts

Overall, the study revealed that a higher number of methane metabolism AMGs are more likely to be found inside host-associated environments like the inside of a cow’s stomach, whereas fewer of these genes were found in environmental habitats, such as in lake sediment. Since cows and other livestock are also responsible for generating about 40% of global methane emissions, their work suggests the complex relationship between viruses, living beings, and the environment as a whole may be more intricately tied together than scientists once thought.

“These findings suggest that global impacts from viruses are underestimated, and deserve more attention,” said Zhong.

Though it’s unclear whether human activities might have affected the evolution of these viruses, the team expects new insights gleaned from this work will raise awareness about the power of infectious agents to inhabit all life on Earth. Still, to keep learning more about these viruses’ inner mechanisms, further experiments will be needed to understand more about their contributions to Earth’s methane cycle, said Zhong, especially as scientists work toward ways to mitigate microbially driven methane emission.

“This work is a beginning step for grasping the viral impacts of climate change,” he said. ‘We still have lots more to learn.”

Reference: “Viral potential to modulate microbial methane metabolism varies by habitat” by Zhi-Ping Zhong, Jingjie Du, Stephan Köstlbacher, Petra Pjevac, Sandi Orlić and Matthew B. Sullivan, 29 February 2024, Nature Communications.
DOI: 10.1038/s41467-024-46109-x

This work was supported by the National Science Foundation, the Croatian Science Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the European Union, and the U.S. Department of Energy. Co-authors include Jingjie Du of Ohio State, as well as Stephan Kostlbacher and Petra Pjevac from the University of Vienna, and Sandi Orlić from the Ruđer Bošković Institute.

11 Comments on "Scientists Uncover Secret Driver of Climate Change"

  1. Steve Johnson | March 9, 2024 at 1:12 pm | Reply

    Ongoing geoengineering is destroying the biosphere, and yet denied it is even being perpetrated by taxpayer-funded contractors. Our skies are consistently filled with jet-sprayed grid lines of toxic nano-particulates that is killing off flora and poisoning our water and air.

    • Gordon Chamberlain | March 11, 2024 at 4:48 am | Reply

      Critical thinking scams and you.
      Where are the chemicals being manufactured?
      What chemicals are being manufactured?
      Who is transporting the chemicals to the airport?
      Who is permitting these chemicals trucks into airports
      Who is flying the air craft?
      Why are they not reporting concern chemicals are being sprayed on their families?
      What has your state health, env, and justice done in response to the concern chemicals are being sprayed in the atmosphere?
      What has your state universities done in response ?
      What has the local and national env organizations done in response ?
      Atmospheric scientists are constantly monstering the atmosphere. What have they done
      Do you believe no gov agencies or env organization have taken any action in response to the theory aircraft are spraying chemicals ?
      You see Steve you have been lied to and fooled to believe ALL these organization and individuals are doing nothing concern about chemicals being sprayed in the atmosphere.

  2. Could it be that mother Earth is more in charge than us humans are?

  3. Ronald Bruce McCune | March 9, 2024 at 8:18 pm | Reply

    Rain has the ability to cleanse our atmosphere. If it rains a lot, then all pollutants in the sky will fall to Earth. Clouds produce rain and then snow when it is cold enough. Clouds need a lot of moisture to become big enough clouds to produce rain and snow. Jet planes and rockets of all kinds emit more heat directly into our atmosphere where clouds form than anything us humans do. If everyone would stop flying jet planes and rockets, then our atmosphere would cool down and much more moisture would appear. We must go back to flying propeller airplanes instead or jet planes. Clouds also are the only thing that shades the Earth’s atmosphere to a great extent. Heat evaporates moisture as car defrosters prove. simply do these things and global warming would greatly decrease!

  4. Rajveer singh | March 10, 2024 at 6:51 am | Reply

    Hello sir namaste god bless all family members und company together work welt bitte achtu ihre gesundheit und cyber security settings gruss green technology industry love to you thanks for alls

  5. I used to be a true man made global warming true believer.. Believed all the nonsense in The Population Bomb ..
    After many failed predictions and suspicious data manipulations – I now am very sketchy that radiatively active gases like CO2/Methane … impact temperature – I want to see repeatable experiment that demonstrates doubling CO2 raises air temp 2.7F to 8.1F as the mann made global warming theory requires – before we upend the economy and needlessly, stupidly make the dire predictions in “The Population Bomb” come true.

    • Gordon Chamberlain | March 11, 2024 at 8:14 am | Reply

      Failed predictions
      What is happening on your planet, to the :
      Arctic sea ice
      Greenland ice sheet
      Atlantic ocean temps
      Ocean acidification
      temperatures at your location.
      As you appear to be not up to date.

  6. Nicholas Jones | March 10, 2024 at 9:21 pm | Reply

    My orderly, logical, and rational mind sometimes takes a break. This occurs when I become aware of certain phenomena, such as the observations made by these researchers, mutations in the microfauna, such as S. Aureus going all flesh-eating, and antibiotic resistance. Pandemic plague appears just as population stress reaches war-time chaos levels. Undepridicable accelerating climate change feedback loops occur when we become powerful enough to influence the balance of the atmosphere, which is our thermostat. The panic I feel when I read these clueless, lazy, and greed-polluted comments. That’s when I go all spiritually philosophical about these checks and balances kicking in and the nature of these corrections’ apparent intelligence and intent. The simultaneous and collective effects across the entire system give me the creeps.

  7. Nicholas Jones | March 10, 2024 at 10:17 pm | Reply

    I also feel a need to comment on the issue of population density. If our response to these existential threats evolves into an acknowledgment of our collective potential ability to fatally mismanage our stewardship responsibility naturally imposed by our status as being THE ALPHA SPECIES, confess culpability, gain confidence in our abilities to apply Delta to our trajectory safely, then logically we will spread out an re-naturalize into every biome with a whole new toolset and knowledge set on top of all the legacy sets. We may need several more billions. But can we escape our owners, erase borders, achieve political decentralization, and replace it with mutual respect and cooperation? I believe the answer to that question may be to embrace the tech we most fear: AI. Species-wide access to psychopath-free trade, banking, and logistics on our mandatory survival devices supported by hack-proof and self-protected communications infrastructure. The only Political constructs needed will be highly and tightly local. A strong sense of nativism and protective pride in that context may just be the glue needed to hold the whole thing together.

  8. It’s the SUN not farts. You know that big HOT thing in the sky.

  9. You know scientist just drilled 2 huge holes into a magma chamber of a volcano in Iceland in hopes to create abundance green energy; well, these holes are uncovered and emiting 900 degrees of volatile heat continuously. Russia also has a huge hole as does china, put it all together and you get global warming. They need to cap them off or fill them back up again.

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