Genetically Engineered Bacteria Could Help Fight Climate Change

As humans warm the planet by releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, some researchers believe that capturing CO2 and trapping it in buried rocks could lower the risk of catastrophic climate change.

Now a team of researchers has shown that bacteria can help the process along. They can even be genetically modified to trap CO2 faster, keeping it underground for millions of years.

When CO2 is pumped into underground porous rocks, it combines with metal ions in the salty water that fills the rock pores and mineralizes into mineral carbonates, such as calcium carbonate (CaCO3). The process can take thousands of years. To see if they could speed things up, biochemist Jenny Cappuccio and colleagues at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Center for Nanoscale Control of Geologic CO2 put a diverse mix of common bacterial species in a calcium chloride solution in the lab and then pumped in CO2. They found that calcium carbonate formed faster in areas where the bacteria were living than it did in sterile solutions. The CaCO3 also had a different mineral structure when the bacteria were around. It tended to grow into crystals of white calcite instead of amorphous black lumps (see picture). The bacteria enhanced the formation of calcite even when they were just lying around, not growing or multiplying.

Intrigued, the team guessed that the surfaces of the bacteria were somehow helping the CO2 hook up with calcium ions. To test that idea, they decided to modify one of the bacterial species, Caulobacter vibrioides, shaping its surface to attract calcium ions, and see what happened.

Cappuccio and colleagues inserted a short DNA sequence that coded for a loop of six glutamic acids—a type of amino acid—into C. vibrioides. The loop sticks out of the bacteria’s surface protein and is repeated over the entire surface of the bacteria in a hexagonal pattern. Each six-acid loop contains six negative charges. The team reasoned that this “negative loop” could fit neatly around positively charged calcium ions in water, attracting them to the surface of the bacteria and coaxing them to form CaCO3.

It worked. When the researchers pumped CO2 into the tanks where the modified bacteria were living, even more CaCO3 solidified than in tanks with unmodified bacteria. Better yet, more of it was in the crystalline calcite form, which is more stable—and likely to sequester CO2 over geological time—than amorphous CaCO3. Cappuccio reports the team’s results today at a meeting of the Biophysical Society in San Diego, California.

Robin Gerlach, a biological engineer at Montana State University in Bozeman, who was not involved with the study, calls the work “very fundamental.” He anticipates broad applications, including stabilizing soil in flood zones, isolating radioactive isotopes, and identifying early life in the fossil record by tracking changes in carbonate mineralization.

But Cappuccio is the first to admit that the results need to be demonstrated in conditions closer to real life. She wants to test her modified bacteria at higher pressures, higher temperatures, and lower pH, conditions closer to those that might be found underground. Eventually, her team wants to modify hard-to-grow extremophiles—bacteria that grow in very hot, high-pressure environments—that are more like the microorganisms that colonize the underground rock formations where CO2 would be sequestered.

Science Now

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4 responses to “Genetically Engineered Bacteria Could Help Fight Climate Change

  1. So NOW we are to create “super-bugs?” We want to “trust” Mad-scientists with Bacteria that in some way affect carbon-capture by solidifying it, –ALL as a “solution” (carbon-capture) to a “problem”(–global-warming) that doesn’t exist(–but the Globalists have to TAX SOMETHING–they’ve run out of money)! Why don’t they capture the carbon and sequester it into invisible(clear, no color) diamonds adorning the EU-”Emperor’s New (invisible) Clothes!” Wait, now,–some fool “mad”-scientist, who never had a grant they were not determined to waste, will propose just that. It actually COULD be done,–I just HOPE nobody remembers I said it, so I won’t be BLAMED for yet another carbon-sequestering FRAUD for the greater FRAUD of Global-Warming! Just how many NON-EXISTANT “problems” must be IMAGINED for us to keep paying and paying and paying-on,–there IS…NO…END…–NO practical LIMIT for idiot-scientists to find stuff to waste our taxes on. And if we stop them from taxing us, a BUREAU like the EPA will simply issue FEES and Penalties for VIOLATING the things that don’t exist, because somebody/something–climate, earth, Nobama, “JUST CAN’T WAIT!” I HOPE we JUST CAN’T WAIT…to retire our Noble “Mis-anthropic-Marxist”-in-the-White-House, this November. I really think the Nobama Regime has brought On-line-GAMING from the Net, to our REAL LIFE, where we’re expected to PAY for stuff that doesn’t exist…except in the MIND, imo, of that Great-GAMER in the White House! Anerobic SUPER-BUGS for Global-warming FRAUD,–what’s next?

  2. About two years I posited a science-fiction short, in which they do this very thing, but with a different bacteria…. it gets out of hand. Africa is rendered lifeless as ALL CO2 is sucked from the region, wiping out plant life. The rest of the world is severely cooled. The AGW fraudsters are hunted down, world-wide.

    But that’s just science-fiction…..

    • Silberstein, Jek

      Dear Otter: –’Sounds like a cool story. Expand it, with movie-script possibilities, and sell it as a “Crighton-style” Thriller,–I’d buy it. PS. IF they’re talking about anerobic-bacteria, some of those hide-out in teeth that have had root-canals, later causing cancer, disease, infirmity, because the body always tries to remove decayed matter from the Soma(body), and a root-canaled tooth always has some remnant of dead tissue in it somewhere. Hanson and some others haven’t ,apparantly, reported lecture-income to the IRS, but if they’re carrying his water, idiot-logically, they’ll get a “pass” there.

  3. And so THIS is how they turn this planet into a lifeless rock!

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