Microbial activity key component of global environmental change

WASHINGTON, DC-February 12, 2001-Managing microbial activity can play a significant role in slowing adverse effects of greenhouse gases and other global environmental changes, according to a new report from the American Society for Microbiology (ASM).

The report, "Global Environmental Change: Microbial Contributions, Microbial Solutions," points out that the basic chemistry of Earth's surface is determined by biological activity, especially that of the many trillions of microbes in soil and water. Microbes make up the majority of the living biomass on Earth and, as such, have major roles in the recycling of elements vital to life.

Since the microbial world can contribute to as well as mitigate global change, its activities are important to understand as a sound basis for policy decisions and regulations.

"We must better understand the human-microbe partnership so that environmental decisions that impact microbial processes will achieve appropriate balances in the atmosphere and biosphere. Otherwise, we will be increasingly challenged by unprecedented environmental problems," predicts Dr. James M. Tiedje, Michigan State University, an author of the report who chairs ASM's Committee on Environmental Microbiology.

Microbial roles in global change include producing and consuming atmospheric gases that affect climate; mobilizing toxic elements such as mercury, arsenic and selenium; and producing toxic algal blooms and creating oxygen depletion zones in lakes, rivers and coastal environments (eutrophication). Furthermore, the incidence of microbial diseases such as plague, cholera, Lyme disease, and West Nile Virus are linked to global change.

The report makes four recommendations to enhance microbiological solutions to global change.

--Integrate understanding of microbiological processes from organism to ecosystem level. This will lead, in part, to an improved understanding of the global carbon budget, eutrophication and the change

Contact: Barbara Hyde
American Society for Microbiology

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