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Cambridge University Science Magazine
In January 2006 it was reported that terrestrial plants emit methane into the atmosphere. It was also found that these emissions occurred under normal physiological conditions, in the presence of oxygen. The emissions estimated were large, and thought to be 10-30% of the annual total of methane entering the earth’s atmosphere. This caused great interest to both the scientific world and the public, but particularly caused interest in political and environmental sectors as this finding had implications on the greenhouse effect, which in turn would cause an effect on government environmental policies.

However only one year later, conflicting evidence has been published by Dueck et al, stating that there is no evidence for substantial aerobic emission by terrestrial plants. The group hypothesised that of the methane produced by the plants, 99% of the methane emitted by the plants used in the experiments carried out, was in the form of ¹³C-methane, which is found not to have such a profound effect on the environment, like that of methane in its free form.

Even though this research causes conflict within the scientific world, and will possibly continue to for some time, with two articles showing contrasting results to those recently published, one article awaiting publication, and many more scientists around the world carrying out research in this area, it is likely to be an area of scientific conflict for some time.

This work causes major controversy in the world of politics, as it will demand that more research is needed to clarify such conflicting arguments. Also, environmental changes needed to be implemented as soon as possible in order to try and minimise the greenhouse effect, and other such environmental issues concerning methane emissions.

Asked to comment on the effect of his recent work, Tom Dueck stated:

“I would hope more research will come, and from the environmental end I hope that the global change scenarios not be immediately changed, but that they wait until this issue is clarified.”

Issues on this area need to be resolved in the scientific world so that changes and policies can be put into place.

Time will tell which of these two scientific stories are correct, but in the meanwhile policies will have to be put into place, and decisions made.

Original paper in Nature

Follow up paper in New Phytologist

Written by Collette Johnson