via University of Birmingham

The world still contains hundreds of mysteries that scientists haven’t been able to crack yet. Sometimes, even the tiniest discovery can lead to a major revolution in the scientific community.

This is what has happened to the predatory bacteria. Scientists knew of their existence and they were known to be bacteria that feed on other bacteria, but the effect that this produces on their surroundings is much more important than previously thought.

Predatory bacteria use enzymes and even some kind of fangs to attack and eat other bacteria. They behave almost like packs of wolves stealthily stalking their prey before tearing it apart and eating it.

Scientists were able to establish that this behavior makes predatory bacteria a fundamental factor in maintaining the health of soils as it balances the levels of nutrients and carbon.

“We’ve known predation plays a role in maintaining soil health, but we didn’t appreciate how significant predator bacteria are to these ecosystems before now,” says Bruce Hungate, a soil ecologist at Northern Arizona University.

Using innovative methods, the researchers evaluated two types of predatory bacteria and compared them to non-predatory ones. The predatory ones grew 36% faster than the others and captured 211% more carbon. Carbon capture in the soil becomes relevant as it is a very efficient way of keeping it away from the atmosphere where it would contribute to the greenhouse effect.

“Until now, predatory bacteria have not been a part of that soil story, but this study suggests that they are important characters who have a significant role determining the fate of carbon and other elements,” says Hungate.

This discovery will help scientists design better methods for conserving the planet’s soils. Once almost ignored, now the predatory bacterium becomes the star of environmental conservation. Thanks for everything, little friend, we won’t take you for granted anymore.