An image of the rodococcus bacteria

Isoprene

Isoprene is a gas emitted by plants, algae, some bacteria and humans. Approximately 400-600 tonnes released into the atmosphere each year. It is released in similar levels to methane which is a greenhouse gas. Despite this I suspect you haven’t heard of isoprene. Isoprene is gas which is a five carbon compound, with the formula CH2=C(CH3)-CH=CH2 and it has an important role in industry as it is used in the manufacture of rubber and the production of vitamins.

Approximately 90% of the total isoprene is emitted by plants. Isoprene is produced in the chloroplasts of plant cells. Isoprene emission mostly takes place during the day in sunlight and it is emitted by both broad leaf and needle leaf plants. It is also emitted by food crops, biofuel and commercial forestry crops.

Willow and popler are popular crops to use to produce biofuels. As a result this could have an impact as both willow and popler are high isoprene emitters. Therefore important research has taken place to look at the impacts of isoprene are, as more isoprene is being emitted in temperate climates due to an increase of biofuel crops.

Does isoprene have an impact on global warming?

Isoprene is described as a Jekyll and Hyde gas, this is because isoprene is thought to have two effects on the atmosphere, which is dependent on conditions in the atmosphere. Isoprene can cause global warming as it interacts with molecules in the atmosphere to produce ozone, which can prolong the life of methane. Both ozone and methane are gases that contribute to global warming. On the other hand isoprene can undergo chemical reactions to form aerosols, which increase cloud cover and as a result lead to the cooling of the earth.

Very little is known about isoprene, as a result, researchers at the University of East Anglia and University of Essex have collaborated together to look into how bacteria can metabolise and degrade isoprene. We know that isoprene can be broken down by a species of bacteria called Rhodococcus, pictured at the top of this page.

For further information about this project you can watch the video below:

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