Microbes play critical role in climate change, new ASM academy report shows

Researchers have shown that microbes play a critical role in climate change and climate change is in turn impacting these microbes who act as the major drivers of elemental cycles and producers and consumers of 3 of the gases responsible for 98% of increased global warming (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide).

According to the new report issued by the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), microbes have a pivotal impact on climate change and are, in turn, impacted by it. To fully understand how to adapt to climate change, it is critical to learn how our changing climate will impact microbes and how they relate to humans and the environment.

“ASM’s new colloquium report underscores that in the quest to find solutions for climate change, we, as a society and scientific community, have new opportunities to use microbes to our benefit,” said Nguyen K. Nguyen, Ph.D., Director of ASM’s American Academy of Microbiology.

This report is the outcome of ASM’s November 2021 colloquium meeting, which brought together more than 30 experts from diverse disciplines and sectors who provided multifaceted perspectives and insights. The American Academy of Microbiology, the scientific think tank within ASM, convened the colloquium.

A companion paper, Microbes and Climate Change, a Research Prospectus for the Future, was published this week in ASM’s open-access journal, mBio. The mBio paper builds on concepts discussed at the November colloquium meeting and provides an extended view and opinions on research needed to fill in the knowledge gaps.

The microbial sciences can provide us with invaluable insights in how to adapt to climate change and its cascading effects. From developing alternative fuels to preventing the spread of pathogens, the applications of microbes are vast and far-reaching. The report details major recommendations for researchers, policymakers and regulators.

Key report recommendations:

  • Emphasize interdisciplinary research focused on understanding how microbial activities and metabolic flux alter as climate, precipitation, and temperatures change globally.
  • Provide guidance for experimental design and data collection for studying microbial communities that allows for data comparison across diverse and global ecosystems.
  • Incorporate existing data about microbial diversity and activity on consuming and producing greenhouse gases into Earth-climate models to improve the current and predictive performance of models.
  • Increase research investments to generate knowledge and awareness of the contribution of microbes to the generation and consumption of warming gases; incorporate these findings into evidence-based policy and regulatory strategies to address climate change.
  • Deploy increased surveillance and detection of zoonotic and vector-borne diseases in animals and humans, including through next generation sequencing technologies, and incorporate a One Health approach to addressing climate changes’ effects on humans, animals, and our environment.
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