While the world is debating regulations to try to cut down on their emissions of the greenhouse gas Carbon Dioxide, in order to slow down the increase in global warming, scientists have discovered that the activity of a single enzyme, phenol oxidase, in peat bogs is the only thing preventing a massive release of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Inside these wet, oxygen-poor bogs, which stretch from Scotland to Siberia, the enzyme’s activity is low and thus it can’t set off the decomposition that would send huge volumes of CO2 into the air.

But if warmer weather causes these peat bogs to dry out, the incoming oxygenmolecules will activate the enzyme and release the gas. Chris Freeman, abiologist at the University of Wales in the U.K., calls the enzyme “a fragile latch mechanism holding in place a vast carbon store.”

The carbon dioxide released from these bogs would equal 70 years of industrial emissions, just at the time when countries around the world are trying to clean up their air pollution. This catastrophic release of greenhouse gases would send world temperatures soaring even higher, drying out even more peat bogs.

Melvin Cammell, of the Center for Ecology and Hydrology in Edinburgh, Scotland, found that after Scottish peat bogs were drained, they continued releasing CO2 into the air for years afterwards. “The releases carry on for hundreds of years,” he said.

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