Remember that train in the old western with the villain stoking the fires in the engine room as the locomotive heads towards the cliff? Well, in a sense, that may be just what’s on track in the world’s oceans for one key group of ocean bacteria known as Trichodesmium.
It turns out that Tricho, are one of the few organisms in the ocean that can fix atmospheric nitrogen gas and thus make it available to other living things.This also makes this bacteria crucial to every form of sea life that requires nitrogen to survive, and that’s pretty much everything in the ocean.
And now, a study conducted by researchers at USC, in collaboration with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, has found that increased carbon dioxide in ocean water due to climate change could eventually send the Trichodesmium into unbridled reproductive overdrive, eventually consuming all of the available resources they, and most life in the ocean need to survive.
To come to this hypothesis researchers bred hundreds of generations of the bacteria over the course of nearly five years in the sam high-carbon dioxide conditions predicted for the year 2100,. The result was that the Tricho showed an alarming level of growth and unbridled levels of consumption. Most disturbingly, after evolving the bacteria to this point researchers were unable to return them to their former growth and consumption behaviour even when the simulated environment was returned to normal conditions.
“Losing the ability to regulate your growth rate is not a healthy thing,” said USC professor David Hutchins, who is Foodism’s new top candidate for the genius grant in understatement, “the last thing you want is to be stuck with high growth rates when there aren’t enough nutrients to go around. It’s a losing strategy in the struggle to survive.“