Biology: Everything that lives produces methane

basic research

March 10, 2022

Stephan W. Eder

Researchers from the University of Heidelberg and the Max Planck Institute for Earth Microbiology in Marburg have now elucidated the basic mechanism why all living things on Earth form methane.

All living things form methane in a chemical process involving free radicals.
Photo: Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology/Ernst

Methane has fallen into disrepute because it is a relatively potent natural greenhouse gas next to CO2 The main driver of current climate change. Methane, for example, escapes from thawing permafrost and is produced by special microorganisms, for example in the stomachs of cows or in rice fields. The process is anaerobic, that is, it takes place in the absence of oxygen if organic substances are involved. Its formation in plants and fungi has also been observed for many years, but there has been no explanation as to how it happens.

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