Monday, March 16, 2009

Burping Worms May Contribute to Climate Change

Thought I'd heard it all with gassy cows. But no. Now it's burping worms:

Studies of soil-dwelling earthworms had showed that the creepy crawlies emitted nitrous oxide because of the nitrogen-converting microbes they gobbled up into their guts with every mouthful of soil.

Peter Stief, of the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Germany, and his colleagues noticed that no one had ever looked for similar nitrous oxide emission in aquatic animals, so that's where they turned their attention.

"We were looking for an analogy in the aquatic system," Stief said.

The researchers found that in a variety of aquatic environments, animals that dug in the dirt for their food did indeed emit nitrous oxide, thanks to the bacteria in the soil they ate, which "survive surprisingly well in the gut environment," Stief told LiveScience.

The team's findings are detailed in the March 2 issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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The nitrous oxide given off by these so-called filter feeders has little global impact of course.

"We're not expecting a new catastrophe," Stief said.
Well, that's a relief! It's hard to imagine a new catastrophe that's more catastrophic than the predicted destruction of life as we know it.

(H/T Youchki, F.E.C.)

Afterthought: Wanna bet somebody's getting federal money to study worm burps?

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