New methane-munching bacteria discovered

New methane-munching bacteria discovered

Methane plumes(vertical shapes) at the undersea Wairarapa methane seep.

An unusual group of methanotrophs – bacteria which digest methane – has been identified by NIWA scientists investigating the fate of undersea methane seeps in the Cook Strait-Wairarapa region.

The bacteria were collected in water samples from the methane seep plumes, at a depth of around 1000 m. DNA extraction and subsequent genetic sequencing has highlighted distinct differences between the genetic make-up of these bacteria and other known methane-oxidising microbes, suggesting a unique ‘Wairarapa type’.

The potential implications of the discovery are very exciting according to Dr Els Maas and Dr Cliff Law. “Now we are trying to learn more about the diversity of the genes’ DNA,” says Els. “If we can replicate the genes, then ultimately we might, for example, be able to use them for reducing methane emissions from agriculture or landfills.”

The research is funded by NIWA’s Capability Fund and the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.

Research subject: Coasts