Microbiology and Climate Change: Small Ways to Fight a Big Problem

Climate change is an issue that affects every person on the planet.

Whatever continent or country we’re talking about, people around the globe will face or are already facing serious change related to shifting climate patterns. Of course, global warming impacts every living thing on earth, not just humans. From caribou herds in Alaska to Antarctica’s penguins, everything that swims, walks or flies is being affected in one way or another.


But what about the microscopic world? How are the trillions of lifeforms, that we live side by side with but hardly ever consider, doing as the global climate shifts? In fact, there’s a lot of research happening right now that’s not only looking into the health of microbial populations but also trying to harness the natural abilities of numerous microbes to potentially solve some climate change problems in innovative ways.


Here are a few instances where microbial research is being applied to questions related to global warming:

  • Non-edible plant waste could be an important source of fuel in the future. A host of microbes produce an enzyme called cellulase that breaks down the cellulose fibre found in this type of waste and converts it to ethanol. The ethanol can be used as a fossil fuel replacement across a myriad of applications including heating, electricity generation and transportation. The problem is that the costs and technical complexity to produce ethanol this way at a commercial scale are high. Research is currently underway at Graz University in Austria to gain a more complete understanding of how this chemical process works using atomic force microscopy. The hope being that in the future, ethanol could be produced more quickly at a lower cost.
  • Genecis, a Canadian company, is selling biodegradable plastic that it is producing by utilizing a bacterial mix that in effect ‘eats’ kitchen waste and converts it into a compostable plastic called polyhydroxyalkanoate. The company hopes that its proprietary bacterial process will allow it to produce bioplastic at a much lower cost than is currently possible.
  • Methane is an extremely damaging greenhouse gas. It traps about 25 times more heat than carbon dioxide. Unfortunately, beef and dairy farming, along with other livestock-based agriculture, is a major source of methane production. Now, scientists at New Zealand’s farming science research institute AgResearch are testing an anti-methane vaccine on their cattle. The vaccine is actually targeted at certain gut microbes that are responsible for producing methane as the cows digest their food. The goal is to eventually reduce the impact that cattle have on methane levels in the atmosphere.


At LuminUltra, we provide our clients with cutting-edge microbial monitoring methodology and industry leading equipment and products. We’re always striving to improve on our products and services and to offer the most insightful support we can, and we’ll continue to follow the latest developments in the field of microbiology.

Stacey Pineau

Clearly explaining complex topics has been Stacey’s focus for close to 25 years now. She helps plan how best to reach the right people, then works to provide them with relevant information that’s easy to understand. Stacey is a team player with an entrepreneurial spirit. She has broad experience that spans the private and public sectors. A lover of words, Stacey has a slightly irrational love of the library and a personal collection of way too many books and magazines. She lives in Fredericton with her husband Ray, their two children and dog Scouty.

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