Researchers at the Max Planck Institute were alarmed by the massive amounts of sucrose they discovered in a recent study. Sea grass, which is a flowering sea plant found in many coastal regions of the world, could be responsible for this phenomenon. These species also play an essential role in marine ecology, being one of the most efficient carbon dioxide (CO₂) sinks on the planet.
According to the study, a square kilometer of seagrass stores almost twice as much carbon as terrestrial forests, and does so 35 times faster.
This makes seagrasses a vital resource for reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.
In this new study, the researchers find the huge stock of sugar to be cause for concern.
Institute director Nicole Dubilier said: “Normally, sugar is part of the natural process of photosynthesis.
“These plants use most of the sugars they produce for their own growth.
“But in bright light conditions, such as midday or summer, plants produce more sugar than they can consume.”
These excess amounts of sugar produced are then stored, to be released later in the rhizosphere, which is the part of the soil where the roots are found.
In hot weather, this rhizosphere is teeming with high concentrations of sugar.
Manuel Liebeke, head of the Institute’s Metabolic Interactions Research Group, said: “There are an estimated 0.6 to 1.3 million tonnes of sugar in the rhizosphere of seagrass beds around the world. .”
This amount is equivalent to approximately 32 billion cans of soda.
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This rhizosphere is also home to a host of different bacteria and other microorganisms that, like humans, love sugar.
For these microbes, sugars are easy to digest, they are quickly consumed and converted into CO₂ by the bacteria.
In order to prevent this production of carbon dioxide, the seagrasses then intervene in the process by releasing phenols into their sediments.
Phenols, which are a type of chemical compound produced by plants, are found in everyday foods, but they also have an additional antimicrobial function.
In the study, researchers found that by preventing microorganisms from digesting seagrass sugars, they were able to prevent large amounts of carbon dioxide from being released into the ocean.
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