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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Amorphous carbon. Scientists have discovered the microbes that make it

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Amorphous carbon can be found, inter alia, in carbon black. Until now, it was believed that no organism could produce it on its own, because extreme reactions were required to create it. Meanwhile, scientists from America and Germany have discovered two microbes that can produce it.

For the first time, scientists have found organisms that produce amorphous carbon – one found in carbon black, for example. Previously, it seemed impossible, and it is still unknown how it affects the carbon cycle in nature.

Surprise in the world of science

All living organisms on Earth are made of carbon, and this element constantly, in a delicate balance, circulates around various spheres of the planet – biological, biological structures, oceans, and human civilization.

It takes various forms – it occurs in organic and inorganic compounds, in the form of diamond or graphite, inventions such as nanotubes or graphene. It can also be amorphous – the so-called amorphous.

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Scientists from Virginia University of Technology, with the support of experts from centers in Germany, discovered two microbes that produce the last form of carbon.

According to the researchers, the discovery contradicts all expectations regarding the possibilities of microorganisms.

– We never thought that amorphous carbon could be produced by living organisms, because usually extreme reactions are necessary for its formation – emphasized Prof. Robert White, co-author of a study published in the academic journal Science Advances.

Methanogens and methanotrophs

Amorphous carbon is produced, for example, at extreme temperature and pressure, or by burning organic matter.

The discovery raises fundamental questions: why and how do these creatures produce this form of carbon, can it be produced in sufficient quantities to affect the cycle of this element in nature?

– This is the first information about amorphous carbon produced by organisms inhabiting the Earth. We are keenly interested in the possible consequences for the carbon cycle – added the expert.

One of the described bacteria belongs to the so-called methanogens – organisms that produce methane, and the other to methanotrophs – organisms that feed on methane.

Methanogens often live in places rich in decomposing organic matter and poor in oxygen, for example in swamps, marshes or in the stomachs of cows. They are responsible for 90 percent of biologically produced methane. Many scientists are interested in them because methane is one of the most powerful greenhouse gases.

In contrast, methanotrophs live mainly at the bottom of the oceans, where they turn methane into carbon dioxide.

Black material in bacterial cultures

For years, researchers dealing with methanogens have noticed black spots in bacterial cultures, but assumed that it was iron sulfide often produced by these bacteria. Even more black material was spotted in methanotroph cultures, which made experts pause.

– I have always wondered, like many methanogen experts, what this black material is. We thought it was iron sulphide deposits, but anaerobic methanomorphs produce much more black matter – said Prof. Kylie Allen.

Further questions, such as the importance of amorphous carbon to nature, await answers.

Main photo source: Shutterstock

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