CEES researchers wrote the best article in Trends in Biotechnology

CEES researchers wrote the best article in Trends in Biotechnology

In January 2017, CEES researchers Unni Vik and Kjetill S. Jakobsen suggested that microorganisms can monitor carbon storage and contribute to saving the global climate. Their article is now voted the best opinion paper from 2017 in the scientific journal Trends in Biotechnology, considered to be a world leader in its field.

Kjetill Jakobsen og Unni Vik ved Institutt for biovitenskap
Unni Vik and Kjetill S. Jakobsen with a microchip that can be used for monitoring microorganisms - which can help us to protect the global climate. Photo: Bjarne Røsjø Download picture.

Researchers in Norway and other countries have put a lot of time, money and effort into developing technologies for Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). In January 2017, an international research group with researcher Unni Vik and Professor Kjetill S. Jakobsen at the University of Oslo as key participants, proposed a totally new idea with far-reaching perspectives.

The proposal was to use microorganisms - bacteria and archaea – to assist in the effort to reduce global gas climate emissions. This idea impressed the editor of the scientific journal Trends in Biotechnology, Matt Pavlovich, who included Vik’s and Jakobsen's article in the TRENDS journals’ best overview for 2017.

Trends in Biotechnology is published by one of the world's major providers of scientific, technical and medical information, Elsevier, and is all about presenting new and exciting ideas that emerge from the field of biology. Elsevier publishes several journals which focus on trends, overviews, ideas and perspectives in cell biology, neuroscience, biochemistry, genetics, microbiology, cancer, ecology, evolution and biotechnology.

Couldn’t think of a better paper

Matt Pavlovic has written a glowing review of the paper from Vik, Jakobsen and colleagues.

“Trends in Biotechnology is all about taking ideas from biology and using them in new and exciting ways. I couldn't think of a paper that embodies that spirit better than this review from Kjetill Jakobsen and colleagues, which proposes the strategy of using microbes as a biotechnology to capture and store atmospheric carbon dioxide”, Pavlovic states.

“While it might be a while before we're inoculating microbial cultures in our flue gas stacks, this opinion article does an excellent job of taking an idea that might sound outlandish, supporting it with compelling literature examples across many different scientific disciplines, and ultimately convincing you that the authors are onto something important”, he adds.

Microorganisms could detect leaks

In the opinion paper, which was also featured in the Norwegian science news site, the researchers explained that one of the biggest concerns with carbon capture and storage is the environmental impacts if there is a leak. How would we know about it, how would we detect it, and what would the environmental implications be?

“The answer is that it should be possible to monitor the bacteria and archaea living in sediment overlying these sites to detect leaks”, Vik explains.

She points to a simulated CO2 leak experiment previously conducted in a sub-seabed reservoir off the west coast of Scotland. There, the researchers were able to detect slight changes in the microbial communities around the reservoir.

"We also suggested that it is possible to use microorganisms for the conversion of CO2 to, for example, sugars or other useful substances such as ethanol, lactic acid, methane or acetate. So, we are no longer talking only about carbon capture and storage, but also about Carbon Capture and Utilisation (CCU), Professor Kjetill S. Jakobsen adds.

Vik and Jakobsen had collaborated with biogeochemists, bioinformaticians and geologists in Scotland and Greece, and at the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute (NGI). The two first authors of the paper are Dr Natalie Hicks at the Scottish Association for Marine Science and Unni Vik.

Something to be proud of

The Norwegian part of the project was part-financed by CLIMIT, which is a public program to accelerate the commercialization of CO2 management through economic stimulation of research, development and demonstration. The program is a collaboration between the Research Council of Norway and the state enterprise Gassnova.

"We are very proud to have our opinion paper voted as last year’s best review in Trends in Biotechnology. This inspires us to continue the work”, says PhD Unni Vik, who is currently working at the Section for Genetics and Evolutionary Biology (EVOGENE) at the University of Oslo.

"The ongoing climate changes are so serious, and the need to develop both CCS and CCU is so big, that we should leave no stone unturned to find a solution. I'm very happy that our idea was so well received”, says Professor Kjetill S. Jakobsen.


PhD Unni Vik, Department of Biosciences and EVOGENE

Professor Kjetill S. Jakobsen, Department of Biosciences and CEES


Bacteria could detect leaks at carbon capture sites

More information:

Crosstalk: Best reviews we published in 2017, part 1. Published February 19, 2018.

Natalie Hicks, Unni Vik, Peter Taylor, Efthymios Ladoukakis, Joonsang Park, Frangiskos Kolisis, Kjetill S. Jakobsen: Using Prokaryotes for Carbon Capture Storage. Trends in Biotechnology, Volume 35, Issue 1, January 2017.