Of the several critical challenges present in environmental microbiology today, one is the assessment of the contribution of microorganisms in the carbon cycle in the Earth-climate system. Karstic subterranean ecosystems have been overlooked until recently. Covering up to 25% of the land surface and acting as a rapid CH4 sink and alternately as a CO2 source or sink, karstic subterranean ecosystems play a decisive role in the carbon cycle in terms of their contribution to the global balance of greenhouse gases. Recent data indicate that microbiota must play a significant ecological role in the biogeochemical processes that control the composition of the subterranean atmosphere, as well as in the availability of nutrients for the ecosystem. Nevertheless, there are still essential gaps in our knowledge concerning the budgets of greenhouse gases at the ecosystem scale and the possible feedback mechanisms between environmental-microclimatic conditions and the rates and type of activity of microbial communities in subterranean ecosystems. Another challenge is searching for bioactive compounds (antibiotics) used for treating human diseases. At present, there is a global health emergency and a strong need for novel biomolecules. In recent decades, great research efforts have been made to extract antibiotics from marine organisms. More recently, caves have been receiving considerable attention in search of novel antibiotics. Cave methanotrophic and heterotrophic bacteria are producers of bioactive compounds and may be potential sources of metabolites with antibacterial, antifungal or anticancer activities of interest in pharmacological and medical research, as well as enzymes with a further biotechnological use. Here we also show that bacteria isolated from mines, a still unexplored niche for scientists in search of novel compounds, can be a source of novel secondary metabolites.
Keywords: karst, methane, carbon dioxide, greenhouse gases, methanotrophy, cave bacteria, bioactive compounds