Microbes key to climate studies, experts say

Tiny organisms such as bacteria and viruses play a neglected role in climate change, research suggests.

These should be taken into account in moves to mitigate warming, scientists say.

Wide impact

These microscopic life forms – known as microbes – affect the existence of all living things, but are often overlooked in climate-related research or policy development, an international study found.

Among those taking part in the study were researchers from Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences.

Microbes are among the oldest, most populous and diverse life forms on Earth, and climate change is likely to affect their diversity, activity and function.

Key organisms

Among the organisms that should be considered in climate calculations are marine phytoplankton, which remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and underpin ocean food chains, the study claims.

Also highly relevant are microbes that inhabit the guts of farm animals, generating large volumes of greenhouse gases, the team says.

Researchers, institutions and governments should commit to greater recognition of microbes in seeking to mitigate climate change, their study found.

Learning lessons

The team also recommends inclusion of microbiology teaching in schools, to educate students on the importance of microbes in addressing global challenges.

The study, published in Nature Reviews Microbiology, was led by UNSW Sydney in collaboration with researchers from Australia, Europe and the US.

In addressing climate change, microbes can be dangerous foes or powerful allies. They have critical functions in animal and human health, agriculture, global food chains and industry. Microbes may be out of sight but we can't afford for them to be out of mind.

Professor Dave ReaySchool of GeoSciences

Related links

School of GeoSciences

Study undergraduate Earth Sciences at the University of Edinburgh

Study postgraduate Earth, Environmental and Ecological Sciences at the University of Edinburgh

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