Researchers from Cornell University have successfully found a species of soil bacteria which is particularly proficient in breaking down of organic matter which includes cancer-causing chemicals which are released due to the burning of coal, gas, oil and refuse.

Dan Buckley, professor of microbial ecology with five other Cornell researchers, along with colleagues from Lycoming College, has discussed the new bacterium in the paper which was published in the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology.

The bacteria belong to the genus Paraburkholderia

Bacteria (Representational picture) Reuters

The newly discovered bacteria belong to the genus Paraburkholderia, which are known for their ability to degrade aromatic compounds and, in some species, the capacity to form root nodules that fix atmospheric nitrogen.

The first step was sequencing the bacterium's ribosomal RNA genes, which provided genetic evidence that madseniana was a unique species. In studying the new bacteria, the researchers noticed that madseniana is especially adept at breaking down aromatic hydrocarbons, which make up lignin, a major component of plant biomass and soil organic matter. Aromatic hydrocarbons are also found in toxic PAH pollution. This means that the newly identified bacteria could be a candidate for biodegradation research and an important player in the soil carbon cycle.

In the case of madseniana, Buckley's lab wants to learn more about the symbiotic relationship between the bacteria and forest trees. Initial research suggests that trees feed carbon to the bacteria, and in turn, the bacteria degrade soil organic matter, thereby releasing nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus for the trees. Understanding how bacteria break down the carbon in soil could hold the key to the sustainability of soil and the ability to predict the future of global climate.

(With agency inputs)