Scientists have discovered two new methane-metabolising organisms whose role in greenhouse gas emissions and consumption is not yet known.
"We sampled the micro-organisms in the water from a deep coal seam aquifer 600 metres below the earth's surface in the Surat Basin, near Roma, Queensland, and reconstructed genomes of organisms able to perform methane metabolism," the University of Queensland (UQ) quoted associate professor Gene Tyson as saying in a statement on Friday.
"Traditionally, these type of methane-metabolising organisms occur within a single cluster group of micro-organisms called Euryarchaeota," the deputy head of UQ's Australian Centre for Ecogenomics in the School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences added.
The research expands the knowledge of diversity of life on the Earth and suggests that scientists are missing other organisms involved in carbon cycling and methane production.
"This makes us wonder how many other types of methane-metabolising micro-organisms are out there?"
The organisms belong to a group of micro-organisms called the Bathyarchaeota, which are an evolutionarily diverse group found in a wide range of environments, including deep-ocean and freshwater sediments.
"To use an analogy, the finding is like knowing about black and brown bears, and then coming across a giant panda," Tyson said.
"They have basic characteristics in common, but in other ways these are fundamentally different."
The discovery of methane-metabolising micro-organisms was made using techniques that sequence DNA on a large scale and assemble these sequences into genomes using advanced computational tools, many of which were developed at The Australian Centre for Ecogenomics over the past 24 months.