U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research

BER Research Highlights


Soil Microbes Eat Nitrous Oxide, a Potent Greenhouse Gas
Published: November 12, 2012
Posted: December 04, 2012

The use of large amounts of nitrogen fertilizer in modern agriculture has resulted in massive releases of nitrous oxide (N2O) into the atmosphere. Although shorter lived than CO2, N2O is over 300 times more potent as a greenhouse gas, so understanding its role and behavior in global climate change is important. Soil microbes naturally consume ammonia in fertilizers, converting it into N2O or dinitrogen gas (N2), a harmless component of the atmosphere. Previous attempts to estimate the abundance of microbes that perform these processes have significantly overestimated N2O production, suggesting that a large, but undetected group of microbes is converting ammonia to N2. In a new study, researchers have used a comparative genomics approach to identify new gene sequences involved in conversion of ammonia to N2 and demonstrated that this genetic pathway is present in several abundant groups of soil microbes not previously thought to be involved in nitrogen conversion. Preliminary experiments suggest that these organisms are capable of this form of metabolism in the laboratory and that the relevant genes are present in soil samples. These results have revealed an important missing piece in our understanding of the terrestrial nitrogen cycle. Further research on the physiology of these organisms and determination of their environmental abundance should improve model predictions for release of greenhouse gasses from soils of bioenergy landscapes or other agricultural systems.

Reference: Sanford, R. A., D. D. Wagner, Q. Wu, J. C. Chee-Sanford, S. H. Thomas, C. Cruz-García, G. Rodríguez, A. Massol-Deyá, K. K. Krishnani, K. M. Ritalahti, S. Nissen, K. T. Konstantinidis, and F. E. Löffler. 2012. “Unexpected Nondenitrifier Nitrous Oxide Reductase Gene Diversity and Abundance in Soils,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 109(48), 19709–714. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1211238109. (Reference link).

Contact: Joseph Graber, SC-23.2, (301) 903-1239
Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Carbon Cycle, Nutrient Cycling
  • Research Area: Genomic Analysis and Systems Biology
  • Research Area: Microbes and Communities
  • Research Area: Sustainable Biofuels and Bioproducts

Division: SC-23.2 Biological Systems Science Division, BER

 

BER supports basic research and scientific user facilities to advance DOE missions in energy and environment. More about BER

Recent Highlights

Aug 24, 2019
New Approach for Studying How Microbes Influence Their Environment
A diverse group of scientists suggests a common framework and targeting of known microbial processes [more...]

Aug 08, 2019
Nutrient-Hungry Peatland Microbes Reduce Carbon Loss Under Warmer Conditions
Enzyme production in peatlands reduces carbon lost to respiration under future high temperatures. [more...]

Aug 05, 2019
Amazon Forest Response to CO2 Fertilization Dependent on Plant Phosphorus Acquisition
AmazonFACE Model Intercomparison. The Science Plant growth is dependent on the availabi [more...]

Jul 29, 2019
A Slippery Slope: Soil Carbon Destabilization
Carbon gain or loss depends on the balance between competing biological, chemical, and physical reac [more...]

Jul 15, 2019
Field Evaluation of Gas Analyzers for Measuring Ecosystem Fluxes
How gas analyzer type and correction method impact measured fluxes. The Science A side- [more...]

List all highlights (possible long download time)