At a whopping 30 million metric tonnes annually, methanotrophic bacteria consume the most harmful and problematic greenhouse gas known as methane, and now researchers at Northwestern University believe it could be the key to reversing global warming.
Methanotrophic bacteria not only eat the harmful gas, but excrete fuel known as methanol, through the use of an enzyme in its cell wall known as particulate methane monooxygenase, or pMMO. Previous researchers had a difficult time studying the process due to the damage to the bacteria through the process of extracting the enzyme, but Amy Rosenzweig, senior author of the new Northwestern paper who holds appointments in both chemistry and molecular biosciences at Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, explains how a new process has been developed that preserves the bacteria enough to determine more useful information about how the methanol is created.
“Methane has a very strong bond, so it’s pretty remarkable there’s an enzyme that can do this. If we don’t understand exactly how the enzyme performs this difficult chemistry, we’re not going to be able to engineer and optimize it for biotechnological applications.”
The researchers used something called cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM), a technique well-suited to membrane proteins due to the fact that the lipid membrane environment is undisturbed throughout the experiment. This allowed them to visualize the atomic structure of the active enzyme at high resolution for the first time.
Read more about the study at Science journal online.