“Primeval microbes” already populated the earth 3.5 billion years ago - Prof Dr Paul Scherer, Dr Sandra Off and Katarina Wegner, HAW Hamburg, are currently investigating them. Energiepark Pirmasens operates Germany’s largest methanisation plant, to form liquid gas suitable for storage microbially with a 60°C methanogen from electrolysis hydrogen, which is produced from excess electricity. The organism researched by HAW would be excellently suited for the process.
“Our biogas working group in the ‘Biomass Use Hamburg’ research association works to find powerful and efficient microbes, as they are the ‘worker bees’ of environmental biotechnology,” says Prof Scherer. “There are two key temperature ranges in microbiology. The ‘mesophilic’ range is at around 37°C. It is required by ‘probiotic’ bacteria and unfortunately also by undesirable, potentially pathogenic bacteria. In order to eliminate these potentially harmful bacteria, the fermenters in our biogas working group generally run in the ‘thermophilic’ temperature range at 55°C and above, which is uncharted territory for science in many respects. We also succeeded in making a special discovery in this uncharted territory: archaea, also called primeval microbes, which had previously only been found once in Japan,” says Prof Scherer.
Microbes, which enjoy hot and inhospitable conditions, are closely related to the micro-organisms that populated primordial earth over 3.5 billion years ago. At that time, the earth was covered in scorching volcanoes, and the primordial ocean had just formed. A few years ago, microbiologists in Japan succeeded in isolating precisely these primeval microbes as a pure culture from methane found in a roughly 800 m deep natural gas borehole.
Hamburg-based microbiologist Dr Sandra Off was the first to discover a genetic “footprint” from these thermophilic methanogens - using molecular biology hybridisation probes in a thermophilic laboratory biogas fermenter with a feed turnip pulp.