A team of researchers from the University of Texas and the University at Buffalo have spent three years trying to identify a molecular mechanism that could drive the rapid evolution of aquatic microbes that are being pulled apart by global warming.
They’ve found evidence of two proteins in freshwater rivers that are “reactive to carbon dioxide,” according to their research published in the journal Science Advances.
“The new work opens up a new window on how organisms are changing under global warming, which is why we’re really excited about it,” said study co-author J.J. Pugh, an associate professor of biological sciences at the university and a professor of chemistry at the University in Buffalo.
The research was funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.
The researchers used the CO 2-sensitive proteins as a proxy for changes in river sediment and sediment chemistry in the northeastern United States, including the New York River.
They found that the rate of sedimentation increased in river banks as CO 2 concentrations rose.
They also found that changes in sediment chemistry and pH in river basins and sedimentary rocks are linked to the increase in sedimentation.
The researchers say they believe their findings provide a framework for understanding how the river system might be responding to the CO2 spike.
The changes in pH and sedimentation could be linked to an increase in the amount of CO 2 in the atmosphere, Pugh said.
“It may be that the increased carbon dioxide is causing some of the changes in the river systems to become more active.”
“This is what we’ve been looking for for decades,” said lead author David O. Kapp, a Ph.
D. student in biological sciences and co-director of the New Jersey Institute for Advanced Technology.
“This is just the first one that’s gotten close to showing that a molecule like CO 2 plays a role.”
The team’s findings, based on their analysis of river sediment in the Hudson River and the Upper New York Bay, also support the idea that CO 2 may play a role in changing river chemistry, O’Donnell said.
In the Lower Hudson River, CO 2 was detected in sediment samples up to 15 years old.
“That’s the time frame we’re trying to understand, because this is what happens in the last 30 years or so,” O’Brien said.
Kapp said that the team hopes to eventually identify other CO 2 responsive proteins in the New Brunswick and Upper New Jersey rivers, which have been found to be changing over time.
But O’Connor said that would be years away.
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