New soil bacterium discovered that degrades organic compounds including carbon

A team of researchers has discovered a new species of soil bacteria that is particularly adept at breaking down organic matter, including chemicals released from gas, coal, oil and many wastes when burned.
The discovery was made by Cornell University’s professor of microbial ecology Dan Buckley, who together with several colleagues from Lycoming College published a new study in the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology.

The new bacterium, named by researchers Paraburkholderia madseniana, was isolated from forest soil and is named after Gene Madsen, a professor of microbiology who had participated in the research without being able to conclude it since he died in 2017.
The genus to which the new bacterium, Paraburkholderia, belongs is related to bacteria that are already known for their ability to degrade organic compounds.

Precisely for this reason these bacteria are interesting because they can also degrade polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a peculiarity that was also the subject of research by Buckley and colleagues.
These bacteria, therefore, could be used for the biodegradation of the carbon cycle, a cycle disrupted in recent decades precisely because of human carbon emissions.

“Soils, each year, treat about seven times more carbon than all human emissions from cars, power plants and heating systems worldwide in their natural work of decomposing plant material. Because the amount of carbon that passes through the soil is so large, small changes in the way we manage the soil could have a big impact on climate change,” explains Buckley, who wants to fully understand with his team how this bacteria breaks down soil carbon, which could be important for the sustainability of the soil itself and the future of the world’s climate in general.

An aphid-eating beetle could save the North American spruce

The Tsuga canadensis, also known as North American spruce or Canadian Hemlock or Eastern Hemlock, is a native tree of North America, widespread in the northern United States and especially in Canada. It is a giant evergreen tree which, with its numerous foliage and branches, makes, among other things, a habitat for many species of birds, insects and many other animals.

Unfortunately, since the 1980s, these trees have been under attack from the woolly adelgida of hemlock (Adelges tsugae), a small aphid native to Japan, which does nothing but suck sugar from the needles of this tree. They can be so numerous that they can cause the death of a massive tree tens of meters high. To fight these aphids, researchers have thought well to use one of its predators, a beetle that they first bred and then released in the forests.

During a five-year study, the results of which were published in Biological Control, researchers monitored the effects of this predator on the aphids that are decimating the population of Tsuga canadensis in Canada and obtained positive results. It is mainly the beetle of the Laricobius nigrinus species, an insect the size of a grain of rice, that is crucial: it hunts adelgid eggs as well as its larvae for food.

Researchers have released several hundred thousand of these beetles at certain sites where Tsuga canadensis trees are present and have noticed that the tree populations themselves are starting to take hold again. Of course, when using techniques like this, which see the large-scale use of predators to supplant a species, there is always the risk of obtaining undesirable results, especially in cases like this where a species that is considered alien and could eventually become invasive is used.

And that’s exactly what the researchers are evaluating before starting a real mass release. The same researchers are also thinking of producing “hybrids” by making these beetles be combined with other endemic beetles from the forests where the Tsuga canadensis are present.

Hydrogen bubbles from the primordial universe confirm the era of reionization

Using the infrared device called NEWFIRM on the four-meter Mayall telescope located in the Kitt Peak National Observatory of Infrared Astronomy Research (OIR Lab), a team of researchers discovered a group of galaxies, called EGS77, which contains what can be considered the first generation of stars that formed in the universe.

The researchers identified some overlapping bubbles of hydrogen gas ionized in primordial galaxies formed only 680 million years after the big bang. The light from the galaxies can in fact ionize the surrounding hydrogen gas and this causes the formation of bubbles which in turn allow the light from the galaxies to travel towards us without the attenuation that the hydrogen gas alone, without bubbles, would have caused.

This discovery represents the first direct evidence of a period, called the “reionization era”, during which the first generation of stars began to reionize the hydrogen gas that permeated the universe allowing the same light to begin to be visible through the “fog” of gas. The reionization put an end to the so-called “dark age” of the primordial universe.

This period, which began more or less half a million years after the big bang, ended with the formation of the first stars. The same period was deduced only through computer simulations and there was no direct evidence, at least until this study.

The group of primordial galaxies identified by the researchers corresponds to a thin strip of sky about one finger wide held at arm’s length. Within this strip would be at least 50,000 galaxies.
“The young universe was full of hydrogen atoms, which attenuated the ultraviolet light so much that it blocked our view of the first galaxies,” James Rhoads reported at a press conference representing research findings. “EGS77 is the first group of galaxies captured in the act of eliminating this cosmic fog.”

The study would confirm, therefore, the existence of a sort of “conical dawn,” which marks the boundary between a neutral and an ionized universe, something that had been predicted by the computer. The study is currently under review and should be close to publication.

Shell fossils show that acidification of the seas already existed before the impact of the asteroid 66 million years ago

According to new studies based on the analysis of shell fossils off the island of Seymour in Antarctica, the Earth was already unstable in terms of environment and climate even before the impact of the asteroid that led to mass extinctions, including that of dinosaurs occurred about 66 million years ago.

Researchers at Northwestern University, funded by the National Science Foundation, have in fact measured the isotopic composition of calcium inside the shells of various fossilized molluscs and snails dating back to the period of mass extinction of the Cretaceous-Paleocene. The chemistry of these shells seems to have changed in response to an increased presence of carbon in the oceans, even before the impact of the asteroid off the coast of Mexico.

Most likely, as researchers report, this increased influx of carbon into the oceans was caused by the eruptions of a long-term phenomenon such as the Deccan traps, a very large volcanic province covering more than 200,000 square miles, located in areas of modern India. These repeated eruptions released enormous quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which led to the acidification of the oceans, an acidification that researchers then “measured” through chemical analysis of these fossils.

According to Andrew Jacobson, senior author of the study, these results show that the Earth was already clearly under stress before the great mass extinction event and that the impact of the asteroid does not coincide with the instability of the carbon cycle that already existed. This raises further doubts that only the impact of the asteroid could have caused the extinction.

The study was published in Geology.

Australia’s marine ecosystems absorb 20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year

The amount of greenhouse gases that can be absorbed by Australia’s marine ecosystems has been studied and quantified in a new study published by Nature Communications.

According to researchers at Edith Cowan University, Australia’s marine plant ecosystems, consisting mainly of algae, mangroves and salt marshes, absorb 20 million tons of carbon dioxide per year. That is why they play an important role in the presence of this greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

According to the same study, this amount of absorbed fuel is estimated to be equivalent to the emissions of more than 4 million cars per year. However, the same study also notes that human damage to these particular ecosystems results in more than 3 million tons of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere annually.

In addition to the direct human-induced cause, adverse weather conditions, which resemble climate change itself, also reduce the carrying capacity of these ecosystems. These ecosystems may be damaged by, inter alia, dredging and other actions that limit their scale, or they may be damaged by heatwaves.

The same principal author of the study, Oscar Serrano of the Marine Ecosystem Research Centre at the University of Australia, adds that these coastal plant ecosystems are reduced in terms of distribution twice as fast as tropical rainforests, despite the fact that the latter play a much greater role in the same world of information when it comes to damaging nature.


Peru’s tropical glaciers are melting at an alarming rate

A new alarming alarm about melting ice is also coming from the tropical glaciers of the Peruvian Andes, which, according to new research in the cryosphere, are melting very quickly. A study group from Friedrich-Alexander-University of Erlangen-Nuremberg (FAU) estimated that glaciers in the area would shrink by almost 30% between 2000 and 2016.

Almost all tropical glaciers are concentrated in Peru, where 92% of its territory is covered by ice in all tropics of the country. Glaciers in these regions form at altitudes greater than 4,000 meters, but are very sensitive to climate variability and change, even more so than Arctic glaciers.

For example, since the 1980s, the Andean glaciers that make up the so-called Cordillera Blanca have melted at a faster rate. Researcher Thorsten Zehaus of the FAU Institute of Geography analyzed various satellite data from Landsat missions and found that 29% of glaciers retreated from 2000 to 2016. Since 1973, even 170 glaciers have disappeared, an area roughly comparable to that of 80,000 football fields.

Moreover, the rate of glacier melting between 2013 and 2016 is four times faster than in previous years, indicating that this melting is increasing in recent years. In particular, there has been a high level of activity in recent years in the El NiƱo phenomenon, where water currents in the equatorial Pacific Ocean have led to higher temperatures and reduced precipitation in Peruvian Andean regions.

The retreat of glaciers of this magnitude may also increase the risk of the destruction of natural dams and, consequently, flooding. In the Cordillera Blanca region alone, 25,000 people have already died as a result of such disasters between 1941 and 2003, and more are expected to occur in the coming years.

12,800 years ago, an asteroid could have hit Earth

New evidence of an asteroid or meteorite collision that could have occurred on Earth 12,800 years ago was found by a team from the Institute of Evolutionary Research at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

Researchers led by Francis Tackeray discovered a significant “peak” of platinum in one of the deposits in the province of Limpopo (South Africa). This peak is observed in a peat deposit, in a sample estimated to be 12,800 years old.

The study, published in Palaeontologia Africana, takes into account the idea of asteroid impact that will take place in an era called the recent Dryas era, which will lead to global consequences, especially climate change, which caused the extinction of several species.

Platinum may, in fact, be linked to meteorites or asteroids, which are notoriously known for their wealth of this element, as stated by Tekkerei himself, who suggests that this is certainly not conclusive evidence, but additional evidence that confirms the hypothesis of the impact of recent droughts.

In any case, platinum peaks such as in South Africa have already been found in the past in Greenland, Eurasia, Mexico in North America and recently in the Pylauco region of Chile. These abnormal amounts of platinum would have fallen to the soil of half the world after the asteroid fell and scattered in the atmosphere.

This hypothetical impact should have led to a near-global extinction of species, which has occurred in regions such as North America, South America and Europe, as well as Africa. Among the animals that died out in those years were some giant mammals, including African buffalo, larger zebras and wildlife than we know today.

In addition, this global climate change is also affecting populations. In North America, for example, researchers have noticed an unusual interruption in the production of stone artefacts, especially in the case of Clovis’ culture. And in South Africa, archaeologists have discovered a similar phenomenon, dating back to the same period, affecting the different cultures of the area, which now belongs to southern South Africa.

In fact, a significant impact could have a strong impact on the environment of human communities, especially with regard to the availability of food resources. According to Tekkerei, the asteroid could have affected an area of northern Greenland. A crater with a diameter of 31 km was found under the ice in the area.