What Duke University scientists hope certain microorganisms can tell them about climate change

Durham County News

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – Beyond the naked eye, there is a tiny creature having a feast. It’s a feast that can act as a fortune-teller regarding climate change

“We started with a simple question which is can we measure something today on these organisms to predict how they will respond to changes in the environment, and temperature change, in particular, tomorrow,” said Duke University biologists Jean Philippe Gibert.

Gilbert and fellow scientist Dan Wieczynski believe they have figured out how to answer that question.

“We can’t stop climate change and think about it for a while. And so any information we can gather to try to better understand all the mechanisms contributing to climate is good,” Wieczynski said.

Every single drop of pond water and teaspoon of soil is filled with tens of thousands of protists. The hungry protists eat bacteria and release it as carbon dioxide. It makes them the largest natural emitters of CO2, the greenhouse gas most responsible for global warming. The planet has so many of them they likely weigh twice as much as all the animals on Earth.

The team has figured out to use their response to temperature, shape, and size to predict the effect of global warming.

“What we set out to do was to look for that information, and we found some. Up until now, we didn’t know whether we could do that. And because of the pace of which climate change is happening, we actually don’t have the time to go around figuring out how every single species on Earth will be responding to these new environmental conditions,” Gibert said.

Every living species on Earth is dependent on how these little creatures react. How they do will help tell us what to do.

“It gives us a little bit of leverage to move forward and try to predict what might happen and what the effects might be,” Wieczynski said. “That’s something we didn’t know and I think if anything that’s a message of hope.”

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