“When I saw the paper, I thought, ‘Holy, this is fun,’ ‘said Jeffrey White, a senior professor at O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University. 30, and is said to have responded with heightened interest to researchers’ – but could not imply – that methanotrophic activity occurs in tree bark, which he described as “very important.”
Methanotrophs are ubiquitous and have been as high as the atmosphere on Earth, so White is confident that this is not the case: He saw the same thing in Minnesota tree trunks.
Wetlands emit more methane into the atmosphere than any other natural resource. But without methanotrophs, they release about 50 to 90 percent More. Microbes, which convert methane into carbon dioxide in the same way that fire burns. The method is, almost exactly, a little warmer. But it prevents too much methane from reaching the sky, making it a source of soil and swimming. Very little is known about the methane party that takes place within trees.
Jeffrey wants to make it clear. A few years ago, his interest was focused on the papers. “It’s a very special tree with amazing bark,” Jeffrey says. These areas are damp, dark, and are known to contain methane. (Jeffrey sometimes refers to it as “treethane.”) “We just thought it might be a good place for methanotrophs,” he continues. So he started to make sure that the tiny insects that hide there. Jeffrey made a series of experiments that would entertain them. First, he cut the bark off trees in three damp places and sealed the pieces inside glass bottles containing methane. Then, he waited. One week later, he measured how low the methane levels in the bottles were. In some species, half of it is missing. In clear bottles containing raw or no other bark, methane levels remain negligible.
Jeffrey’s team also knows that methanotrophs have a set of lips. A single methane gas atom can exist as two stable isotopes: old carbon-12 or heavy-duty carbon-13 that carry around the extra neutron circulation. Carbon-13 bonds are difficult to break, which is why methanotrophs tend to feed on light isotope. Jeffrey’s team found that the amount of carbon-13-methane in bottles increased over time. Something on the skin was lively and selectively eating, if a child leaves a yellow Starbursts in a pocket after pulling out the pink ones.
Encouraged by these developments, he sent the bark across the town to medical experts at Monash University, who studied all living things on the skin. The verdict: Paperbark samples contained hundreds of bacteria that were not found in soil or wetlands, and most of them live in the methane-hungry environment. Methylomonas.
But all of these results were found in the lab, and Jeffrey’s team needed to see how the living trees are, especially how fast they run methane. He walked through the jungle of New South Wales, set up the carefully sealed chambers on the sidewalks, and measured the number of trees in a row.
Jeffrey then breathed in the room. Difluoromethane is a drug that regulates methanotrophs — slightly inhibiting digestion. “It precludes them from consuming methane,” says Jeffrey. After allowing the air to evaporate for an hour, Jeffrey stopped and reviewed the air. Because the viruses stopped eating, methane levels jumped. On average, the team calculated, microbes were removing 36% of the methane that would have entered the atmosphere.