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Biotech, Undersea Researchers Partner on Carbon Capture Bacteria

Scuba diver collecting bacterial samples

Braden Tierney collects samples in the volcanic CO2 seeps near Vulcano. (Seed Health, John Kowitz)

19 Apr. 2023. A microbiome biotechnology company and an undersea research group are studying microorganisms that thrive in and consume intense carbon dioxide. Seed Labs, a subsidiary of the microbiome biotechnology company Seed Health in Los Angeles is collaborating with the Two Frontiers Project, led by a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell University medical school in New York and Harvard Medical School in Boston.

The Two Frontiers Project conducts microbiological research in extreme environments, particularly under the oceans and in space. The group, founded in Sept. 2022 by data scientist Braden Tierney, aims to better understand the role and activity of carbon dioxide in these environments to find solutions to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere and better manage exhaled carbon dioxide in human space flight. Tierney researches machine learning algorithms for understanding bacterial interactions with the environment and their impacts on our daily lives.

One of the Two Frontiers studies investigates ocean waters near the Vulcano Islands off Sicily in the Mediterranean. In those shallow depths, carbon seeps from the ocean floor and as a result the water has a high concentration of carbon. In Sept. 2022, a Two Frontiers expedition to Vulcano took samples of microorganisms in the high-carbon ocean waters, as well as other nearby areas with lower concentrations of carbon. The group later collected samples in another exploration of microbes living in carbon-rich hot springs in Colorado. Tierney and colleagues returned the samples to the lab to build a biobank of these extreme microbes, and are conducting genomic and other analysis to develop databases of those microbes’ characteristics.

More efficient carbon dioxide absorption

Seed Health creates therapies for a wide range of conditions and consumer health products based on the microbiome, communities of bacteria and other microorganisms in the body. The company established Seed Labs as a separate division to develop environmental and other non-health microbial products, such as bio-based plastics, agriculture, and the environment. With the Two Frontiers Project, Seed Labs is funding further investigations of a cyanobacteria species that the researchers say absorbs carbon dioxide more efficiently than other microbes studied so far, as a solution for sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Financial and intellectual property details of the collaboration are not disclosed.

“These bacteria appear to grow naturally in these volcanic plumes,” says microbiologist Max Schubert, a Harvard Medical School colleague of Tierney in a Seed Health statement released through Cision, “efficiently using the plentiful CO2. When measured against some of the fastest-growing cyanobacteria described, the strain was more efficient at carbon capture under several conditions. They also seem to have adapted to the bubbling, churning environment of the volcanic plumes by becoming denser and sinking more readily, an unusual trait that could prove useful for potentially capturing carbon and sinking it into the deep ocean for sequestration.”

“With this collaboration,” adds Seed Health Co-Founder Raja Dhir, “we have the potential to power the bio-revolution in carbon technology and uncover novel solutions to address the climate crisis.”

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