Thursday, October 2, 2014
Methane-Eating Microbes Need Trace Metal
Geo-engineering: Methane-Eating Microbes Need Trace Metal: "The study was recently published online in the journal Environmental Microbiology. The research was sponsored by the Department of Energy, NASA Astrobiology Institute and the National Science Foundation. Glass conducted the research while working as a NASA Astrobiology post-doctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology, in the laboratory of professor Victoria Orphan. The methane-eating organisms, which live in symbiosis, consume methane and excrete carbon dioxide. “Essentially, they are eating it,” Glass said. “They are using some of the methane as a carbon source and most of it as an energy source.” Phylogenetically speaking, one microbial partner belongs to the Bacteria, and the other is in the Archaea, representing two distinct domains of life. The archaea is named ANME, or anaerobic methanotrophic archaea, and the other is a sulfate-utilizing deltaproteobacteria. Together, the organisms form “beautiful bundles,” Glass said. For a close-up view of the action on the sea floor, the research team used the underwater submersible robot Jason. The robot is an unmanned, remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and can stay underwater for days at a time. The research expedition in which Glass participated was Jason’s longest continuous underwater trip to date, at four consecutive days underwater. The carbon dioxide excreted by the microbes reacts with minerals in the water to form calcium carbonate. As the researchers saw through Jason’s cameras, calcium carbonate has formed an exotic landscape on the ocean floor over hundreds of years. “There are giant mountains on the seafloor of calcium carbonate,” Glass said. “They are gorgeous. It looks like a mountain landscape down there.” While on the seafloor, Jason’s robotic arm collected samples of sediment. Back in the lab, researchers sequenced the genes and proteins in these samples. The collection of genes constitutes the meta-genome of the sediment, or the genes present in a particular environment, and likewise the proteins constitute a metaproteome. The research team discovered evidence that an enzyme used by microbes to “eat” methane may need tungsten to operate. The enzyme (formylmethanofuran dehydrogenase) is the last in the pathway of converting methane to carbon dioxide, an essential step for methane oxidation. Microorganisms in low temperature environments typically use molybdenum, which has similar chemical properties to tungsten but is usually much more available (tungsten is directly below molybdenum on the periodic table). Why these archaea appear to use tungsten is unknown. One guess is that tungsten may be in a form that is easier for the organisms to use in methane seeps, but that question will have to be answered in future experiments."
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