Australian scientists have recently discovered a new species of predatory ocean microbe that has the capability to capture CO2 via photosynthesis.
In addition to sourcing energy from sunlight, the marine microbe is also capable of hunting and eating prey, making it a predatory species.
The exciting new discovery is especially relevant for the environment, as the ability of the ocean microbe to naturally sequester CO2 may potentially help in the fight against climate change, especially as ocean waters are becoming increasingly warmer and more acidic.
Discovered by a team of scientists at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), this microbe has proved to be very common around the world.
It uses photosynthesis to produce a type of exopolymer that is rich in carbon and attracts other microbes, later immobilizing them.
Part of the incapacitated prey is eaten, after which the exopolymer is left to trap further microbes, which makes it heavier and causesit to sink, thus contributing to the ocean’s natural carbon pump.
According to lead researcher Dr Michaela Larsson, this is the first study to ever document such behavior.
The significance of this discovery is also made apparent by the fact that, in effect, marine microbes ultimately shape global climate through an array of different biogeochemical processes.
And while we already know about the mechanisms through which phytoplankton contributes to this carbon pump, there is much less information available on microbes and their contribution.
That is even more so the case with mixotrophic protists – the class of microbes capable of both photosynthesis and consuming other organisms, to which the newly discovered predatory microbe belongs.
This flexibility to acquire nutrients in different ways means that mixotrophic protists can thrive in parts of the ocean where most phytoplankton cannot.
The implication of these findings is that the ocean may, in fact, have much greater carbon sequestration potential than previously thought.