From “Bacterial Communication Could Affect Earth’s Climate, Researchers Discover,” (ScienceDaily, Oct. 13, 2011), we learn:
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) scientists have discovered that bacterial communication could have a significant impact on the planet’s climate.
In the ocean, bacteria coalesce on tiny particles of carbon-rich detritus sinking through the depths. WHOI marine biogeochemists Laura Hmelo, Benjamin Van Mooy, and Tracy Mincer found that these bacteria send out chemical signals to discern if other bacteria are in the neighborhood. If enough of their cohorts are nearby, then bacteria en masse commence secreting enzymes that break up the carbon-containing molecules within the particles into more digestible bits. It has been suggested that coordinated expression of enzymes is very advantageous for bacteria on sinking particles, and Hmelo and her colleagues have uncovered the first proof of this in the ocean.
“We don’t often think about bacteria making group decisions, but that is exactly what our data suggest is happening,” said Hmelo, now at the University of Washington.
Actually, we have been thinking about it a bit more these days, for example, here, so don’t feel shy.
“So microscopic bacteria buffer the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere through their ‘conversations,’ ” Van Mooy said. “I think it’s amazing that there are a near-infinite number of these conversations going on in the ocean right now, and they are affecting Earth’s carbon cycle.”
So could an anti-climate change strategy include getting them to talk more?