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Underwater pillars can help save climate

Secrets of strange Greenland mineral columns revealed to Copenhagen scientists

An enzyme found in a group of bizarre underwater features can indirectly help tackle climate change.

This could be one of the outcomes of University of Copenhagen research into a strange quirk of nature: Columns, made up of calcium and the mineral Ikait that are only found in the remote Ikka fjord in Greenland.

The head of the project, Professor Peter Stougaard, is currently in Greenland for field studies. The University Post caught him on the phone in the Greenland town of Qaqortoq (Julianehåb) while he was taking shelter from driving rain outside.

Micro-organisms like nowhere else

»The significant thing about the columns is that they have a very high PH value, a high level of basicity or alkaline, and they are at the same time in a very cold environment,« he explains.

»They are the home to particular micro-organisms that, like the columns, are not found anywhere else in the world,« he adds.

Inside the micro-organisms, enzymes reside that are adapted to the cold, alkaline environment. This can have a practical application.

»Once we have the enzyme, we can find the gene that codes for the enzyme. Put the same code in other enzymes in other laboratory micro-organisms, and we can maintain their original features. This is then what is applicable to new washing powders,« he explains.

Laundry conditions

New cold-water powders can have further more far-reaching consequences, as they can cut back on the indirect CO2 emissions from heating water.

The University of Copenhagen is co-operating closely with Danish enzyme producer Novozymes. Senior scientist Mads Bjørnvad of Novozymes said to Sky News recently that the technology would save up to 18 million tonnes in CO2 in a year across Europe – equivalent to taking 4-5 million cars off the road.

»In this fjord these enzymes have evolved to work at extreme cold temperatures, in very alkaline conditions. The other place these conditions exist would be for instance in a laundry machine or detergent – so if we can learn from these enzymes, we can find the solutions that nature has already evolved, and that would be fantastic,« he said.

Exotic life forms

Peter Stougaard is currently in Greenland on a three-week stint together with geologists, microbiologists and even zoologists, as the Ikka columns are the home of exotic life forms which only exist in the fjord.

See a video of the eery world of the Ikka columns here:

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and here:

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