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Global change microbiology - big questions about small life for our future.

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PubMed ID: 31089292

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Boetius A

Nat Rev Microbiol. Jun 2019. doi: 10.1038/s41579-019-0197-2

COMMENT: A defence of global change microbiology as a research field on its own. Knowing more about microbial life will be key to face the current enviromental challenges. 

Microorganisms have been in our planet for longer time than any other living organism on Earth. They are responsible of performing the so-called core functions (hydrogen oxidation and production, CO2 and N2 fixation, photosynthesis) that support our complex ecosystems, by using only sunlight, water, air and minerals. These core functions have been maintained during life history due to the huge diversity of microorganisms which potentially can comprise more than a billion taxa.

The exponential and non-sustainable growth of human population and the associated industrial activities are the main  actors of climate change. While microorganims can enhance global warming due to their response to changes in the environment, they can also be the solution, for instance in the production of sustainable energies, biorremediation, production enhancement and others. In this sense, microbiology as a discipline that can expand our knowledge about microorganisms reveals key to address this questions succesfully. In words of the author,

It is obvious that solutions to environmental problems and our future require a holistic approach to decision taking, and that this must include knowledge of the role of microorganisms.

MIcroorganisms reveal to be essential in all main environmental challenges: agriculture and farming, sea exploitation, energy production, textile and food production. In all these sectors, a better knowledge of microorganisms could lead to better management of their sid-effects from the global point of view. 

Microbial life still remains to be a discipline by itself regarding global change, despite being key in this global change. As a conclusion,

... we must wonder how microorganisms cope with global change, how they will adapt and mitigate, where they will challenge humanity by unwanted positive feedback mechanisms and what solutions they provide.  

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