Ancient microbes may hold key to lowering greenhouse gas emissions
1 December 2006
AgResearch scientist Dr Keith Joblin and French researcher Dr Gérard Fonty have been jointly awarded the inaugural
‘Dumont D’Urville’ award for biotechnology studies involving France and New Zealand by the French Ministry for Foreign
Affairs and the NZ Ministry of Research, Science and Technology.
Palmerston North based Dr Joblin and University Blaise Pascal, Clermont-Ferrand based Dr Fonty have been investigating
possible novel uses for methane-utilising microbes in Lake Pavin, a 6000 year old crater mountain lake in the Auvergne
region of France.
The lake is highly unusual because its deepest portion has evolved without mixing between different layers. This has
enabled microbes to evolve undisturbed for a very long period. French scientists have found that the deep layer contains
novel microbes which utilise methane in the absence of oxygen.
Methane, one of New Zealand’s major greenhouse gases, is produced in similar anaerobic conditions in the stomach of cows
and sheep and is the focus of a large scale research programme funded by the pastoral sector through the Pastoral
Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium and Crown.
“The early phase of our study is to obtain as much information as possible on these microbes,” said Dr Joblin.
“In the longer term, the aim is to determine whether the unusual methane-utilising microbes from Lake Pavin can be
introduced to the rumen to mop up methane before it is released to the environment as a greenhouse gas”.
He said that as part of the study Dr Fonty is visiting AgResearch in and during the visit they will consider whether NZ
has lakes similar to Lake Pavin and whether these also contain methane-utilising microbes.
The award, named after the famous French explorer Dumont D’Urville (as per Durville Island) who explored New Zealand
several times in the 1800s.