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New Report Shows the Critical Role Microbes Play in Climate Change

April 22, 2022

New Report Shows the Critical Role Microbes Play in Climate Change

Jizhong Zhou
Jizhong Zhou

Jizhong Zhou, director of the Institute for Environmental Genomics at the University of Oklahoma, has contributed to a new report published by the American Society for Microbiology. The report, Microbes and Climate Change – Science, People, and Impacts, examines the relationship between microbes and climate change.

The report shows that microbes have a pivotal impact on climate change and are, in turn, impacted by it. The report further contends that it is critical to better understand how the changing climate will impact microbes and how they relate to humans and the environment.

The World Health Organization identified climate change as the "single biggest health threat facing humanity in 2021,” citing adverse impacts on water quality, food security and global economies. Additionally, a recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found changes to Earth’s climate in every region of the world, noting the unprecedented scale and speed in warming of the planet’s surface over the last 200 years.

“ASM’s new colloquium report underscores that in the quest to find solutions for climate change, we, as a society and scientific community, have new opportunities to use microbes to our benefit,” said Nguyen K. Nguyen, the director of ASM’s American Academy of Microbiology.

This report is the outcome of ASM’s November 2021 colloquium meeting, which brought together more than 30 experts from diverse disciplines and sectors who provided multifaceted perspectives and insights. The American Academy of Microbiology, the honorific leadership group and think tank within ASM, convened the colloquium. 

report cover

Representing the University of Oklahoma, Zhou was a key participant in the colloquium and contributed to the report. He was also an author on the companion paper, Microbes and Climate Change: a Research Prospectus for the Future, published this week in ASM’s open-access journal, mBio.

“Understanding the mechanisms of microbial feedbacks to climate change is critical but extremely challenging, with many key questions unaddressed,” Zhou said. “With a unique microbe-centric long-term climate change experiment at the University of Oklahoma, we are excited that we are in a unique position to be able to address some of the challenging questions related to terrestrial ecosystems, particularly grasslands.”

The microbial sciences can provide us with invaluable insights in how to adapt to climate change and its cascading effects. From developing alternative fuels to preventing the spread of pathogens, the applications of microbes are vast and far reaching. The report details major recommendations for researchers, policymakers and regulators.

Key report recommendations:

  • Emphasize interdisciplinary research focused on understanding how microbial activities and metabolic flux alter as climate, precipitation, and temperatures change globally.
  • Provide guidance for experimental design and data collection for studying microbial communities that allows for data comparison across diverse and global ecosystems.
  • Incorporate existing data about microbial diversity and activity on consuming and producing greenhouse gases into Earth-climate models to improve the current and predictive performance of models.
  • Increase research investments to generate knowledge and awareness of the contribution of microbes to the generation and consumption of warming gases; incorporate these findings into evidence-based policy and regulatory strategies to address climate change.
  • Deploy increased surveillance and detection of zoonotic and vector-borne diseases in animals and humans, including through next generation sequencing technologies, and incorporate a One Health approach to addressing climate changes’ effects on humans, animals, and our environment.

To learn more about the impact of microbes on climate change, visit the American Society for Microbiology’s Microbes and Climate Change resource page.

The American Society for Microbiology is one of the largest professional societies dedicated to the life sciences and is composed of 30,000 scientists and health practitioners. ASM's mission is to promote and advance the microbial sciences. ASM advances the microbial sciences through conferences, publications, certifications, educational opportunities and advocacy efforts. It enhances laboratory capacity around the globe through training and resources. It provides a network for scientists in academia, industry and clinical settings. Additionally, ASM promotes a deeper understanding of the microbial sciences to diverse audiences.