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UH Mānoa researcher receives $3.4M to study fungi-bacterial relations in climate change

A trail through shadowy forest along the river offers more fall color, rusty ferns, green moss and mushrooms.
Brian Mann
/
NPR
A trail through shadowy forest along the river offers more fall color, rusty ferns, green moss and mushrooms.

Some of the earthʻs smallest organisms could cut the impact of climate change. Understanding how is the goal of work by a researcher at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

Associate professor Nhu Nguyen received a $3.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to study the relationship among fungi, bacteria and climate change.

Fungi and bacteria in soil help reduce greenhouse gasses in the air.

"The soil is alive. That's what makes soils different from dirt," Nguyen told HPR.

Plants remove CO2 from the air and carry it into the soil. From there, fungi and bacteria consume CO2 and move around nutrients throughout the soil.

"It's teeming with life. And that includes these two big groups, the fungi and the bacteria. They are the driving mechanism that moves nutrients in soil. Nutrients on the planet moves around," Nguyen explained.

Hawaiʻi has more than 80% of the soil types on the planet — making the islands an ideal location for the research.

Nguyen’s research team will look into how to efficiently limit greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere using fungi and bacteria.

Zoe Dym is a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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