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Warwick researchers show that bacteria found on common trees may act as sinks for air pollution

Carbon monoxide is found in small amounts throughout the atmosphere, produced by incomplete burning of fossil fuels, as well as from natural processes. It is toxic to humans, and as an air pollutant it can lead to poor health outcomes, including higher rates of heart failure and lower average birth weights. “Elevated concentrations of carbon monoxide over a longer term, even if they’re relatively low, have an effect on health,” said Hendrik Schäfer, Professor of Microbiology at the University of Warwick, “Air pollution is known to be a really important factor in morbidity, making people ill and leading to premature deaths.”

The research demonstrates the important role micro-organisms may potentially play in reducing air pollution, if they are acting as a sink for carbon monoxide in the biosphere. “[Microbes] probably contribute in different ways than we’ve previously realised to the degradation of carbon monoxide in cities,” Professor Schäfer explained.

“Trees have an impact on air quality, not only because they produce oxygen and they draw down carbon dioxide, but perhaps also because they are associated with micro-organisms that may have an impact on other trace gases,” he said, “We may find unexpected potential benefits of trees that are rendered through microbial organisms.”

Read the Microbiology Society press release here

The research paper published in the journal Environmental Microbiology can be downloaded here:

Thu 16 Jun 2022, 10:43