Plant-eating carbon?

I read an interesting article last month about a microscopic plant that seems to love gobbling up CO2 – over and above trees I guess!

According to the article, cyanobacteria are prehistoric organisms, no bigger than a pinhead and look like black slime. Despite their size these organisms changed the earth’s atmosphere by converting CO2 into oxygen until it was able to sustain other lifeforms. Interesting.

Many cyanobacteria are able to reduce nitrogen and carbon dioxide under aerobic conditions, a fact that may be responsible for their evolutionary and ecological success.(1)

What’s even more interesting is that it has been found in Queensland’s dry soils and apparently each hectare of it can mop up up to one tonne of CO2. Research by Dr Wendy Williams, head of an ongoing study at the University of Queensland, found on a tropical north Queensland savannah about one-third of carbon absorbed would be through cyanobacteria. In a survey of 1.6 million square kilometres of Queensland Dr Williams found the microscopic plants everywhere.

Small pond full of green colored cyanobacteria. (Credit: iStockphoto)

Some species of cyanobacteria produce toxins and are most commonly known as the blue-green algal blooms seen from time to time in Australian waterways. Controlling cyanobacteria in waterways is a topic of constant debate as it seems no one single option has been entirely successful in eradicating the potentially harmful bacteria from waterways.

Other species are sold as food: notably Aphanizomenon flos-aquae and Arthrospira platensis (Spirulina).

However, the species studied by Dr Williams that occurs in soil may, according to Dr Williams, be of potential benefit to land owners in a carbon-trading economy. Many Queensland properties already have cyanobacteria on them which can be farmed and used to rehabilitate soils.

Currently, soil respiration and carbon is measured without taking into account the surface crusts that photosynthesise and therefore sequester carbon. Over 70% of Australia is arid or semi-arid and it is probable that microbiotic crusts represent at least 300 million tonnes in biomass. These crusts are an important yet often underestimated component of the natural ecosystem.” (2)

An abstract of Dr Williams’ thesis can be found at the UQ Library site and a discussion on the carbon uptake of cyanobacteria crusts can be found here (opens as PDF).

Perhaps this is an area of research the Australian government can look more into as part of its carbon abatement programs. There are many more alternatives to a carbon tax it seems than was first thought.


©Earth Goddess Wisdom



(1)  Wikipedia

(2)  Cyanobacteria highly active during wet season: A long-term study at Boodjamulla National Park, north-west Queensland, Williams  et al (2010)

Courier Mail

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