Biologists sniff out another way to make methane

R. palustris
Rhodopseudomonas palustris, shown in this photomicrograph, is a type of bacteria that can use iron-only nitrogenase to convert nitrogen and carbon dioxide into methane as well as ammonia and hydrogen gas in a single enzymatic step. (UW / Harwood Lab)

Every year, microbes produce hundreds of millions of tons of methane, a greenhouse gas that’s more potent than carbon dioxide. Scientists had thought the job was done exclusively through methanogenesis. But in the journal Nature Microbiology, a research team led by the University of Washington’s Caroline Harwood lays out an alternate method that makes use of a backup enzyme called iron-only nitrogenase.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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