Tagged: Biology Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • richardmitnick 8:15 am on July 19, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Bioengineers shed light on folding genomes", , “3D Epigenetics”, Biology, ,   

    From Penn Today: “Bioengineers shed light on folding genomes” 

    From Penn Today

    July 18, 2019

    A light-triggered technique that allows genomes to be folded into specific configurations at high speeds has potential to advance the field of 3D epigenetics.


    The genome is identical in every cell of the body. However, this tightly-packed genetic material isn’t always folded into the same shape in each cell. The folding pattern can lead to variations in which genes are activated to make proteins.

    A genome can be thought of as a beaded string, with each bead representing a gene. Reporting in Nature Methods, Jennifer Phillips-Cremins, an assistant professor in Penn Engineering’s Department of Bioengineering, led a team in using light to force both ends of that string together, folding it into specific shapes so that certain genes are in direct physical contact with each other. By controlling which genes are touching, Phillips-Cremins and colleagues hope to determine how different configurations lead to different combinations of genes that are expressed in the body.

    This field of genomic shape manipulation is known as “3D Epigenetics,” and Phillips-Cremins is one of the researchers at its forefront. Her team’s light-triggered folding method, known as light-activated dynamic looping (LADL), can fold genomes into specific loops in a matter of hours. The loops are temporary and can be easily undone. Since prior research from the Phillips-Cremins lab indicates that these looping mechanisms may play a role in some neurodevelopmental diseases, this speedy new folding tool may one day be of use in further research or even treatments.

    “It is critical to understand the genome structure-function relationship on short timescales because the spatiotemporal regulation of gene expression is essential to faithful human development and because the mis-expression of genes often goes wrong in human disease,” Phillips-Cremins says. “The engineering of genome topology with light opens up new possibilities to understanding the cause-and-effect of this relationship. Moreover we anticipate that, over the long term, the use of light will allow us to target specific human tissues and even to control looping in specific neuron subtypes in the brain.”

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    U Penn campus

    Academic life at Penn is unparalleled, with 100 countries and every U.S. state represented in one of the Ivy League’s most diverse student bodies. Consistently ranked among the top 10 universities in the country, Penn enrolls 10,000 undergraduate students and welcomes an additional 10,000 students to our world-renowned graduate and professional schools.

    Penn’s award-winning educators and scholars encourage students to pursue inquiry and discovery, follow their passions, and address the world’s most challenging problems through an interdisciplinary approach.

  • richardmitnick 1:12 pm on July 11, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Biology, Coral on the move to escape sea heat, , , ,   

    From University of Washington and COSMOS: “Reefs on the move- Coral reefs shifting away from equator, new study finds” 

    U Washington

    From University of Washington


    Cosmos Magazine bloc

    From COSMOS Magazine

    July 9, 2019

    Corals and kelp.Soyoka Muko/Nagasaki University

    Coral reefs are retreating from equatorial waters and establishing new reefs in more temperate regions, according to new research published July 4 in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series. The researchers found that the number of young corals on tropical reefs has declined by 85% — and doubled on subtropical reefs — during the last four decades.

    “Climate change seems to be redistributing coral reefs, the same way it is shifting many other marine species,” said lead author Nichole Price, a senior research scientist at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in Maine. “The clarity in this trend is stunning, but we don’t yet know whether the new reefs can support the incredible diversity of tropical systems.”

    As climate change warms the ocean, subtropical environments are becoming more favorable for corals than the equatorial waters where they traditionally thrived. This is allowing drifting coral larvae to settle and grow in new regions. These subtropical reefs could provide refuge for other species challenged by climate change and new opportunities to protect these fledgling ecosystems.

    “This study is a great example of the importance of collaborating internationally to assess global trends associated with climate change and project future ecological interactions,” said co-author Jacqueline Padilla-Gamiño, an assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences. “It also provides a nugget of hope for the resilience and survival of coral reefs.”

    The researchers believe that only certain types of coral are able to reach these new locations, based on how far the microscopic larvae can swim and drift on currents before they run out of their limited fat stores. The exact composition of most new reefs is currently unknown, due to the expense of collecting genetic and species diversity data.

    “We are seeing ecosystems transition to new blends of species that have never coexisted, and it’s not yet clear how long it takes for these systems to reach equilibrium,” said co-author Satoshi Mitarai, an associate professor at Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University who earned his doctorate at the UW. “The lines are really starting to blur about what a native species is, and when ecosystems are functioning or falling apart.”

    The study site on Palmyra Atoll, one of the Northern Line Islands that lies between Hawaii and American Samoa.
    Nichole Price/Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences

    This experiment in the Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific is allowing researchers to enumerate the number of baby corals settling on a reef.

    Recent studies show that corals are establishing new reefs in temperate regions as they retreat from increasingly warmer waters at the equator.

    Writing in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series [above], researchers from 17 institutions in six countries report that the number of young corals has declined by 85% on tropical reefs during the last four decades, but -doubled on subtropical reefs.

    “Climate change seems to be redistributing coral reefs, the same way it is shifting many other marine species,” says lead author Nichole Price, from Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, US.

    “The clarity in this trend is stunning, but we don’t yet know whether the new reefs can support the incredible diversity of tropical systems.”

    The research team has compiled a global database of studies dating back to 1974, when record-keeping began. They hope other scientists will add to it, making it increasingly comprehensive and useful to other research questions.

    See the full U Washington article here .
    See the full COSMOS article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The University of Washington is one of the world’s preeminent public universities. Our impact on individuals, on our region, and on the world is profound — whether we are launching young people into a boundless future or confronting the grand challenges of our time through undaunted research and scholarship. Ranked number 10 in the world in Shanghai Jiao Tong University rankings and educating more than 54,000 students annually, our students and faculty work together to turn ideas into impact and in the process transform lives and our world. For more about our impact on the world, every day.
    So what defines us —the students, faculty and community members at the University of Washington? Above all, it’s our belief in possibility and our unshakable optimism. It’s a connection to others, both near and far. It’s a hunger that pushes us to tackle challenges and pursue progress. It’s the conviction that together we can create a world of good. Join us on the journey.

  • richardmitnick 12:18 pm on July 9, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Atacama Desert-Chile-strange ice spire formations – called 'penitentes', Biology, , ,   

    From University of Colorado Boulder via Science Alert: “Eerie Ice ‘Spires’ Harbor Life Forms in One of The Harshest Environments on Earth” 

    U Colorado

    From University of Colorado Boulder



    Science Alert

    9 JUL 2019

    Penitentes ice formations in Chajnantor, Chile. (ESO)

    They’re one of the weirdest, most incongruous-looking natural phenomena you could ever see on Earth’s surface: massive dagger-shaped blades of vertically aligned ice, assembled in mysterious flocks in the middle of the desert.

    These strange ice spire formations – called ‘penitentes’ due to their resemblance to penitent, praying folk – take shape at high altitudes in cold, dry environments, like the hyper-arid wilderness of the Atacama Desert in Chile.

    But their jagged frostiness in the parched land is not the same as lack of hospitality. As it happens, these eerie congregations – aka nieves penitentes – are actually a shelter for invisible life forms.

    In a new study, a team of scientists led by researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder trekked up the side of the world’s second-highest volcano, Chile’s Volcán Llullaillaco, and found microbes making a home amongst these silent shards.

    Penitentes on Volcán Llullaillaco in Chile. (Steve Schmidt/CU Boulder)

    “Snow algae have been commonly found throughout the cryosphere on both ice and snow patches, but our finding demonstrated their presence for the first time at the extreme elevation of a hyper-arid site,” says microbial biology researcher Lara Vimercati.

    “Interestingly, most of the snow algae found at this site are closely related to other known snow algae from alpine and polar environments.”

    At an elevation of around 5,000 metres (16,000 ft) above sea level, Llullaillaco’s icy penitentes revealed patches of red colouration, which the team says is a pigment-based signature of microbial activity in snow and ice formations.

    Taking samples back to the lab, the researchers identified microbes dominated by the algal genera Chlamydomonas and Chloromonas – the first time, the team says, that scientists have reported microbial life inhabiting these strange ice structures.

    “Given the harshness of the environments where they are found, nieves penitentes may represent oases for life, because, along with fumaroles [gassy vent-like openings in Earth’s crust], they represent intermittent water sources in these very arid environments,” the authors explain in their paper [below].

    It’s not just a new discovery for life on Earth, either, as the implications of the research might extend even further, hypothetically speaking.

    Penitentes on Volcán Llullaillaco in Chile. (Steve Schmidt/CU Boulder)

    Analogues for Earth’s own icy penitentes have been identified in towering shard-like structures on Pluto and on Jupiter’s Moon Europa – and if the icy shards act as a watery oasis for life in the dry Andes, it’s just possible that the same could hold elsewhere in the Solar System.

    “This first report of snow algae occurring in penitente ice opens the door to future work that will address the altitudinal limits of these communities,” the researchers conclude.

    There’s still much to learn about how these microbial populations got to their dagger-shaped homes, the team says – including figuring out whether they contribute to the formation of the shards somehow, or simply migrate there afterwards.

    While the answers may be hard to come by given the difficulty of travelling to the extreme, remote environments in which penitentes arise, future science beckons nonetheless.

    “We’re generally interested in the adaptations of organisms to extreme environments,” says one of the team, microbial ecologist Steve Schmidt.

    “This could be a good place to look for [the] upper limits of life.”

    The findings are reported in Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    U Colorado Campus

    As the flagship university of the state of Colorado, CU-Boulder is a dynamic community of scholars and learners situated on one of the most spectacular college campuses in the country. As one of 34 U.S. public institutions belonging to the prestigious Association of American Universities (AAU) – and the only member in the Rocky Mountain region – we have a proud tradition of academic excellence, with five Nobel laureates and more than 50 members of prestigious academic academies.

    CU-Boulder has blossomed in size and quality since we opened our doors in 1877 – attracting superb faculty, staff, and students and building strong programs in the sciences, engineering, business, law, arts, humanities, education, music, and many other disciplines.

    Today, with our sights set on becoming the standard for the great comprehensive public research universities of the new century, we strive to serve the people of Colorado and to engage with the world through excellence in our teaching, research, creative work, and service.

  • richardmitnick 10:23 am on July 8, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: 7 Tesla MRI, , Biology, , ,   

    From Science News: “A 100-hour MRI scan captured the most detailed look yet at a whole human brain” 

    From Science News

    July 8, 2019
    Laura Sanders

    A device recently approved by the U.S. FDA made extremely precise images of a postmortem sample.

    CLOSE-UP A 3-D view of the entire human brain, taken with a powerful 7 Tesla MRI and shown here from two angles, could reveal new details on structures in the mysterious organ.

    Over 100 hours of scanning has yielded a 3-D picture of the whole human brain that’s more detailed than ever before. The new view, enabled by a powerful MRI, has the resolution potentially to spot objects that are smaller than 0.1 millimeters wide.

    “We haven’t seen an entire brain like this,” says electrical engineer Priti Balchandani of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, who was not involved in the study. “It’s definitely unprecedented.”

    The scan shows brain structures such as the amygdala in vivid detail, a picture that might lead to a deeper understanding of how subtle changes in anatomy could relate to disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

    To get this new look, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and elsewhere studied a brain from a 58-year-old woman who died of viral pneumonia. Her donated brain, presumed to be healthy, was preserved and stored for nearly three years.

    Before the scan began, researchers built a custom spheroid case of urethane that held the brain still and allowed interfering air bubbles to escape. Sturdily encased, the brain then went into a powerful MRI machine called a 7 Tesla, or 7T, and stayed there for almost five days of scanning.

    The strength of the 7T, the length of the scanning time and the fact that the brain was perfectly still led to the high-resolution images, which are described May 31 at bioRxiv.org. Associated videos of the brain, as well as the underlying dataset, are publicly available.

    ZOOM IN This video moves from the outer wrinkles to the inner structures and then back out to the wrinkles of a complete human brain at extremely high resolution.

    Researchers can’t get the same kind of resolution on brains of living people. For starters, people couldn’t tolerate a 100-hour scan. And even tiny movements, such as those that come from breathing and blood flow, would blur the images.

    But pushing the technology further in postmortem samples “gives us an idea of what’s possible,” Balchandani says. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first 7T scanner for clinical imaging in 2017, and large medical centers are increasingly using them to diagnose and study illnesses.

    These detailed brain images could hold clues for researchers trying to pinpoint hard-to-see brain abnormalities involved in disorders such as comas and psychiatric conditions such as depression. The images “have the potential to advance understanding of human brain anatomy in health and disease,” the authors write.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

  • richardmitnick 11:46 am on July 6, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Biology, , It is made up of some 20 million metric tons of Sargassum algae– more than the weight of 200 fully loaded aircraft carriers., , Sargassum provides habitats for turtles crabs fish and birds while also producing oxygen for marine life to live off through the process of photosynthesis., , Scientists have measured what they say is the largest seaweed bloom on record stretching 8850 kilometres (nearly 5500 miles) across the Atlantic Ocean, Too much of the algae can cause problems in terms of restricting the movement and breathing of certain marine species.   

    From Science Alert: “Scientists Discover The Largest Seaweed Bloom Ever Found, And It’s Still Growing” 


    From Science Alert

    6 JUL 2019

    Scientists have measured what they say is the largest seaweed bloom on record, stretching 8,850 kilometres (nearly 5,500 miles) across the Atlantic Ocean and made up of some 20 million metric tons of Sargassum algae – more than the weight of 200 fully loaded aircraft carriers.

    The Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt, as it’s being called, is expanding due to nutrients washed out from the Amazon river on one side and the West African coast on the other, some of which may be due to increased deforestation and fertiliser use.

    Using satellite data from NASA as well as samples collected in the field, the researchers have identified a tipping point that happened back in 2011. Since then, there have been major blooms almost every year, and there’s no sign of that trend changing – the latest spread stretched all the way from West Africa to the Gulf of Mexico.

    Spreading sargassum. (Wang et al., Science., 2019)

    The scientists have linked that change to an increase in deforestation and fertiliser use in Brazil and across the Amazon, beginning at the start of the decade, though the association isn’t yet clear-cut.

    While the researchers aren’t ready to say exactly what’s causing the bloom, they feel confident it’s not going away any time soon.

    “The evidence for nutrient enrichment is preliminary and based on limited field data and other environmental data, and we need more research to confirm this hypothesis,” says study leader and oceanographer Chuanmin Hu, from the University of South Florida.

    “On the other hand, based on the last 20 years of data, I can say that the belt is very likely to be a new normal.”

    So what does this mammoth bloom mean for our oceans? Unfortunately we don’t know enough to say just yet.

    Seaweed blooms like this aren’t necessarily bad for the ocean: sargassum provides habitats for turtles, crabs, fish and birds, while also producing oxygen for marine life to live off through the process of photosynthesis.

    But too much of the algae can cause problems, in terms of restricting the movement and breathing of certain marine species, especially around coastal regions. After it dies, the sargassum can choke corals and seagrass if there’s too much of it in the water.

    Rotting sargassum on the beach also gives off a rotten egg smell thanks to the hydrogen sulphide it releases, and that means an unpleasant experience for locals and tourists, as well as potential impacts on health (for those with asthma, for example).

    (Brian Cousin/Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute)

    The size of the blooms now peak between April and July before slowly dissipating, but some seeds that get left over in the winter then go on to contribute to larger swathes of sargassum the next summer.

    “The ocean’s chemistry must have changed in order for the blooms to get so out of hand,” says Hu. “They are probably here to stay.”

    Many factors play into sargassum growth, including the salinity and temperature of the water, and as yet the scientists don’t have direct readings for nutrient levels for all the years covered by the study – in some cases it’s been estimated based on other signals.

    In 2011 the bloom was particularly widespread, and we’re still seeing the momentum for that now. As well as more nutrients being discharged from the Amazon river, the researchers say, an upwelling or rising in the sea level off West Africa also contributed more nutrients (lifted up from deeper water to the surface).

    Ultimately that led to the enormous bloom that was recorded last summer and detailed in this new study. Now they know the extent of it, the researchers want to further investigate its causes and possible consequences – on precipitation, ocean currents, human activity and more.

    “We hope this provides a framework for improved understanding and response to this emerging phenomenon,” says Hu. “We need a lot more follow-on work.”

    The research has been published in Science.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

  • richardmitnick 10:42 am on July 3, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Berkeley Lab Receives DOE Support for Building to Study Microbe-Ecosystem Interactions for Energy and Environmental Research", , BioEPIC, Biology, ,   

    From Lawrence Berkeley National Lab: “Berkeley Lab Receives DOE Support for Building to Study Microbe-Ecosystem Interactions for Energy and Environmental Research” 

    Berkeley Logo

    From Lawrence Berkeley National Lab

    July 3, 2019

    Research related to the Microbial Community Analysis and Functional Evaluation in Soils (mCAFES) project. (Credit: Marilyn Chung/Berkeley Lab)

    Members of the Ecosystems and Networks Integrated with Genes and Molecular Assemblies (ENIGMA) research consortium at work. (Credit: Marilyn Chung/Berkeley Lab)

    Soil sampling work conducted as part of the Terrestrial Ecosystems Science Scientific Focus Area (TES). (Credit: Roy Kaldschmidt/Berkeley Lab)

    Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) recently received federal approval to proceed with preliminary design work for a state-of-the-art building that would revolutionize investigations into how interactions among microbes, water, soil, and plants shape entire ecosystems. Research performed in the building could help address many of today’s energy, water, and food challenges.

    BioEPIC (for Biological and Environmental Program Integration Center) would integrate pioneering research in the prediction of biological and environmental processes – from microbes to watersheds – now underway in the Lab’s Biosciences Area and Earth and Environmental Sciences Area. This includes the Ecosystems and Networks Integrated with Genes and Molecular Assemblies (ENIGMA) Scientific Focus Area, the Watershed Function Scientific Focus Area, the Terrestrial Ecosystems Science Scientific Focus Area (TES), and the Microbial Community Analysis and Functional Evaluation in Soils (m-CAFEs) project. These projects leverage innovative research at field sites around the country (ENIGMA, Watershed, TES) and in controlled, fabricated laboratory ecosystems (m-CAFEs). The projects are supported by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research (BER) within DOE’s Office of Science.

    BioEPIC is envisioned to enhance this existing research through a suite of next-generation research tools now being developed that would dramatically improve scientists’ ability to conduct carefully controlled experiments on soil-microbe-plant interactions. These tools would include instruments and computing infrastructure to virtually connect BioEPIC to relevant field sites, enabling the rapid transfer of insights discovered under laboratory conditions to the sites’ dynamic environments.

    One new research tool planned for BioEPIC would be an EcoPOD. About the size of a phone booth, EcoPODs are envisioned to allow scientists to study plants, microbes, soil, and air in a fully instrumented and contained miniature ecosystem.

    Another component proposed for BioEPIC would be a SMART (Sensors at Mesoscale for Autonomous Remote Telemetry) soils testbed, which would enable the exploration of soil-microbe-plant interactions under controlled yet “realistic” conditions that include soil and plant variability and hydrogeochemical gradients.

    At the other end of the environmental biology scale range, a new BER-funded cryo-electron microscopy resource in BioEPIC would enable researchers to interrogate microbial interactions at the atomic level.

    Co-locating these capabilities in one building would enable researchers to quantify how microbes influence the environment and how the environment influences microbial processes, across scales – from molecules to ecosystems, and from seconds to years. In addition to scientific discoveries, these new capabilities could lead to entirely new ways to harness microbes for game-changing solutions. Examples include more efficient methods for improving soil and water quality, enhanced terrestrial carbon storage, better drought-tolerance in crops, and higher-yield plant precursors for biofuels.

    “We are pleased that the Office of Biological and Environmental Research is entrusting us to develop the new capabilities needed to advance our understanding of these complex ecosystems, which will further our predictive understanding of biological-environmental processes across scales,” says Berkeley Lab Director Mike Witherell.

    The recent DOE approval, called Critical Decision 1, or CD-1, authorizes Berkeley Lab to begin preliminary architectural and engineering design work for BioEPIC, a proposed four-story, 72,000-square-foot laboratory and office building capable of housing approximately 200 scientists and visitors. BioEPIC is proposed to be located on a cleared lot that formerly held Berkeley Lab’s famed Bevatron particle accelerator. The building would be funded by the Office of Science’s Science Laboratories Infrastructure (SLI) Program.

    BioEPIC research would benefit from the five DOE Office of Science User Facilities now located at Berkeley Lab: the Advanced Light Source (ALS), Molecular Foundry, National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC), Energy Sciences Network (ESnet), and Joint Genome Institute (JGI).

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Bringing Science Solutions to the World

    In the world of science, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) is synonymous with “excellence.” Thirteen Nobel prizes are associated with Berkeley Lab. Seventy Lab scientists are members of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), one of the highest honors for a scientist in the United States. Thirteen of our scientists have won the National Medal of Science, our nation’s highest award for lifetime achievement in fields of scientific research. Eighteen of our engineers have been elected to the National Academy of Engineering, and three of our scientists have been elected into the Institute of Medicine. In addition, Berkeley Lab has trained thousands of university science and engineering students who are advancing technological innovations across the nation and around the world.

    Berkeley Lab is a member of the national laboratory system supported by the U.S. Department of Energy through its Office of Science. It is managed by the University of California (UC) and is charged with conducting unclassified research across a wide range of scientific disciplines. Located on a 202-acre site in the hills above the UC Berkeley campus that offers spectacular views of the San Francisco Bay, Berkeley Lab employs approximately 3,232 scientists, engineers and support staff. The Lab’s total costs for FY 2014 were $785 million. A recent study estimates the Laboratory’s overall economic impact through direct, indirect and induced spending on the nine counties that make up the San Francisco Bay Area to be nearly $700 million annually. The Lab was also responsible for creating 5,600 jobs locally and 12,000 nationally. The overall economic impact on the national economy is estimated at $1.6 billion a year. Technologies developed at Berkeley Lab have generated billions of dollars in revenues, and thousands of jobs. Savings as a result of Berkeley Lab developments in lighting and windows, and other energy-efficient technologies, have also been in the billions of dollars.

    Berkeley Lab was founded in 1931 by Ernest Orlando Lawrence, a UC Berkeley physicist who won the 1939 Nobel Prize in physics for his invention of the cyclotron, a circular particle accelerator that opened the door to high-energy physics. It was Lawrence’s belief that scientific research is best done through teams of individuals with different fields of expertise, working together. His teamwork concept is a Berkeley Lab legacy that continues today.

    A U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratory Operated by the University of California.

    University of California Seal

    DOE Seal

  • richardmitnick 9:14 am on July 3, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Biology, Cable bacteria grow to astonishing densities. One square inch of sediment may contain as much as eight miles of cables., , Discoveries like these raised the possibility that other bacteria might be dabbling in electricity., Electroactive bacteria, Geobacter can also plug into other species of microbes., Geobacter metallireducens feeds on carbon compounds, Geobacter transfers its electrons to iron oxide or rust., , , The microbe responded by sprouting hairlike growths   

    From The New York Times: “Wired Bacteria Form Nature’s Power Grid: ‘We Have an Electric Planet’ “ 

    New York Times

    From The New York Times

    July 1, 2019
    Carl Zimmer

    Electroactive bacteria were running current through “wires” long before humans learned the trick.

    Gordon Studer

    At three o’clock in the afternoon on September 4, 1882, the electrical age began. The Edison Illuminating Company switched on its Pearl Street power plant, and a network of copper wires came alive, delivering current to a few dozen buildings in the surrounding neighborhood.

    One of those buildings housed this newspaper. As night fell, reporters at The New York Times gloried in the steady illumination thrown off by Thomas Edison’s electric lamps. “The light was soft, mellow, and grateful to the eye, and it seemed almost like writing by daylight,” they reported in an article the following day.

    But nature invented the electrical grid first, it turns out. Even in 1882, thousands of miles of wires were already installed in the ground in the New York region — in meadows, in salt marshes, in muddy river bottoms. They were built by microbes, which used them to shuttle electricity.

    Electroactive bacteria were unknown to science until a couple of decades ago. But now that scientists know what to look for, they’re finding this natural electricity across much of the world, even on the ocean floor. It alters entire ecosystems, and may help control the chemistry of the Earth.
    What on Earth Is Going On?

    “Not to sound too crazy, but we have an electric planet,” said John Stolz, a microbiologist at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.

    In the mid-1980s, Dr. Stolz was helping to study a baffling microbe fished out of the Potomac River by his colleague Derek Lovley. The microbe, Geobacter metallireducens, had a bizarre metabolism. “It took me six months to figure out how to grow it in the lab,” said Dr. Lovley, now a microbiologist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

    Like us, Geobacter feed on carbon compounds. As our cells break down these compounds to generate energy, they strip off free electrons and transfer them to oxygen atoms, producing water molecules. Geobacter couldn’t use oxygen, however, because it lived at the bottom of the Potomac, where the element was in short supply.

    Instead, Geobacter transfers its electrons to iron oxide, or rust, Dr. Lovley and his colleagues discovered. The process helps turn rust into another iron compound, called magnetite.

    The finding left the scientists with a puzzle. We humans draw oxygen into our cells to utilize it, but Geobacter does not import rust. So the microbe must somehow get the electrons out of its cell body and attach them to rust particles. How?

    A real live wire

    The researchers struggled for years to find the answer. Dr. Stolz eventually turned to other microbes to study. But Dr. Lovley soldiered on. Over the years, he and his colleagues have come across Geobacter in many places far beyond the Potomac. They’ve even encountered the bacteria in oil drilled from deep underground. “It’s basically found everywhere,” Dr. Lovley said.

    In the early 2000s, Dr. Lovley’s team discovered that Geobacter could sense rust in its neighborhood. The microbe responded by sprouting hairlike growths.

    Maybe each of those growths, known as a pilus, was actually a wire that latched onto the rust, Dr. Lovley thought. Electrons could flow from the bacterium down the wire to the receptive rust. “It seemed like a wild idea at the time,” Dr. Lovley said.

    But he and his team found several clues suggesting that the pilus is indeed a living wire. In one experiment, when Geobacter was prevented from making pili, the bacteria couldn’t turn rust to magnetite. In another, Dr. Lovley and his colleagues plucked pili from the bacteria and touched them with an electrified probe. The current swiftly shot down the length of the hairs.

    Subsequent research revealed that Geobacter can deploy its wires in different ways to make a living. Not only can it plug directly into rust, it can also plug into other species of microbes.

    The partners of Geobacter welcome the incoming flow of electrons. They use the current to power their own chemical reactions, which convert carbon dioxide into methane.

    Gordon Studer

    Discoveries like these raised the possibility that other bacteria might be dabbling in electricity. And in recent years, microbiologists have discovered a number of species that do.

    “When people are able to dig down at the molecular level, we’re finding major differences in strategy,” said Jeff Gralnick of the University of Minnesota. “Microbes have solved this issue in several different ways.”

    In the early 2000s, a Danish microbiologist named Lars Peter Nielsen discovered a very different way to build a microbial wire. He dug up some mud from the Bay of Aarhus and brought it to his lab. Putting probes in the mud, he observed the chemical reactions carried out by its microbes.

    “It developed in a very weird direction,” Dr. Nielsen recalled.

    At the base of the mud, Dr. Nielsen observed a buildup of a foul-smelling gas called hydrogen sulfide. That alone was not surprising — microbes in oxygen-free depths can produce huge amounts of hydrogen sulfide. Normally, the gas rises the surface, where oxygen-breathing bacteria can break most of it down.

    But the hydrogen sulfide in the Aarhus mud never made it to the surface. About an inch below the top of the mud, it disappeared; something was destroying it along the way.

    After weeks of perplexity, Dr. Nielsen woke up one night with an idea. If the bacteria at the bottom of the mud broke hydrogen sulfide without oxygen, they would build up extra electrons. This reaction could only take place if they could get rid of the electrons. Maybe they were delivering them to bacteria at the surface.

    “I imagined it could be electric wires, and I could explain all of this,” he said.

    So Dr. Nielsen and his colleagues looked for wires, and they found them. But the wires in the Aarhus mud were unlike anything previously discovered.

    Each wire runs vertically up through the mud, measuring up to two inches in length. And each one is made up of thousands of cells stacked on top of each other like a tower of coins. The cells build a protein sleeve around themselves that conducts electricity.

    As the bacteria at the bottom break down hydrogen sulfide, they release electrons, which flow upward along the “cable bacteria” to the surface. There, other bacteria — the same kind as on the bottom, but employing a different metabolic reaction — use the electrons to combine oxygen and hydrogen and make water.

    Cable bacteria are not unique to Aarhus, it turns out. Dr. Nielsen and other researchers have found them — at least six species so far — in many places around the world, including tidal pools, mud flats, fjords, salt marshes, mangroves and sea grass beds.

    And cable bacteria grow to astonishing densities. One square inch of sediment may contain as much as eight miles of cables. Dr. Nielsen eventually learned to spot cable bacteria with the naked eye. Their wires look like spider silk reflecting the sun.

    Electroactive microbes are so abundant, in fact, that researchers now suspect that they have a profound impact on the planet. The bioelectric currents may convert minerals from one form to another, for instance, fostering the growth of a diversity of other species. Some researchers have speculated that electroactive microbes may help regulate the chemistry of both the oceans and the atmosphere.

    “To me, it’s a strong reminder of how ready we are to ignore things we cannot imagine,” Dr. Nielsen said.

    Electroactive bacteria for hire

    Much about these microbes remains murky, and subject to debate. In April, Nikhil S. Malvankar, a physicist at Yale University, and his colleagues challenged Dr. Lovley’s finding that Geobacter use pili as wires.

    Their research indicates that bacteria use a different structure to pump electrons. It’s a wire built from building blocks called cytochromes. Individual cytochromes are important for moving electrons around inside cells. But until now no one knew they could be stacked into a conductive wire.

    “There never had been a material like this before,” Dr. Malvankar said.

    Sarah Glaven, a research biologist at the United States Naval Research Laboratory who was not involved in the new study, said she found it compelling. “Totally believe it,” she said. “The question is, is it just part of the puzzle?”

    It’s possible that Geobacter uses both structures to move electrons, Dr. Glaven said. Or maybe one serves a different function, and just happens to conduct electricity in the hands of a scientist.

    The answers to such questions matter deeply to scientists, who are tinkering with electroactive bacteria to develop new kinds of technology.

    At Cornell University, Buz Barstow and his colleagues are investigating the possibility of wiring bacteria to solar panels. The panels would capture sunlight and generate a stream of electrons. The electrons would stream down microbial wires to a species of bacteria called Shewanella, which would use the energy to convert sugar into fuel.

    It’s still a distant dream. For now, Dr. Barstow is trying to work out the basic biology by which Shewanella moves electrons from its wires to the molecules it uses for its metabolism. But he is so taken with the elegance of electroactive bacteria that he figures it’s worth a shot. “You’re talking to someone who has drunk the Kool-Aid,” he said.

    Other researchers are looking into using these filaments as sensors. For instance, a wristband with embedded wires might monitor people’s health by delivering electric current when it detects chemical changes in sweat. Dr. Lovley and his colleagues are genetically engineering Geobacter to add molecular hooks to their pili, so that they snag certain molecules.

    Among the many advantages that living wires may have is that they’d be easier on the environment than the man-made kind. “It takes a lot of energy and nasty chemicals to make a lot of those electronic materials, and then none of them are biodegradable,” Dr. Lovley said.

    Bacteria, by contrast, can build wires from little more than sugar. And when it comes time to throw wires away, they become food for other microbes.

    Dr. Nielsen, who now directs the Center for Electromicrobiology at the University of Aarhus in Denmark, said that he is avoiding the technology rush for now. There is still too much to learn about the microbes themselves. “Once we find out what these wires are made from and how they work, a lot of potential applications may show up,” he said.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

  • richardmitnick 1:22 pm on June 26, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Biology, , , Switchgrass is used as a biomass crop for advanced biofuel production., Turning the switch on biofuels   

    From Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory: “Turning the switch on biofuels” 

    From Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

    June 17, 2019
    Anne M Stark

    Switchgrass is used as a biomass crop for advanced biofuel production.

    Plant cell walls contain a renewable, nearly limitless supply of sugar that can be used in the production of chemicals and biofuels. However, retrieving these sugars isn’t all that easy.

    Imidazolium ionic liquid (IIL) solvents are one of the best sources for extracting sugars from plants. But the sugars from IIL-treated biomass are inevitably contaminated with residual IILs that inhibit growth in bacteria and yeast, blocking biochemical production by these organisms.

    Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) scientists and collaborators at the Joint BioEnergy Institute have identified a molecular mechanism in bacteria that can be manipulated to promote IIL tolerance, and therefore overcome a key gap in biofuel and biochemical production processes. The research appears in the Journal of Bacteriology.

    “Ionic liquid toxicity is a critical roadblock in many industrial biosynthetic pathways,” said LLNL biologist Michael Thelen, lead author of the paper. “We were able to find microbes that are resistant to the cytotoxic effects.”

    The team used four bacillus strains that were isolated from compost (and a mutant E. coli bacterium) and found that two of the strains and the E. coli mutant can withstand high levels of two widely used IILs.

    Douglas Higgins, a postdoc working with Thelen at the time, dived into how exactly the bacteria do this. In each of the bacteria, he identified a membrane transporter, or pump, that is responsible for exporting the toxic IIL. He also found two cases in which the pump gene contained alterations in the RNA sequence of a regulatory guanidine riboswitch. Guanidine is a toxic byproduct of normal biological processes; however, cells need to get rid of it before it accumulates.

    The normal, unmodified riboswitch interacts with guanidine and undergoes a conformational change, causing the pump to switch on and make the bacterial cells resistant to IILs.

    “Our results demonstrate the critical roles that transporter genes and their genetic controls play in IIL tolerance in their native bacterial hosts,” Thelen said. “This is just another step in engineering IIL tolerance into industrial strains and overcoming this key gap in biofuel production.”

    The results could help identify genetic engineering strategies that improve conversion of cellulosic sugars into biofuels and biochemicals in processes where a low concentration of ionic liquids surpass bacterial tolerance.

    Scientists from Sandia National Laboratories and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory also contributed to this research.

    The work is funded by the Department of Energy’s Office of Science

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    LLNL Campus

    Operated by Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC, for the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration
    Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) is an American federal research facility in Livermore, California, United States, founded by the University of California, Berkeley in 1952. A Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC), it is primarily funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and managed and operated by Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC (LLNS), a partnership of the University of California, Bechtel, BWX Technologies, AECOM, and Battelle Memorial Institute in affiliation with the Texas A&M University System. In 2012, the laboratory had the synthetic chemical element livermorium named after it.
    LLNL is self-described as “a premier research and development institution for science and technology applied to national security.” Its principal responsibility is ensuring the safety, security and reliability of the nation’s nuclear weapons through the application of advanced science, engineering and technology. The Laboratory also applies its special expertise and multidisciplinary capabilities to preventing the proliferation and use of weapons of mass destruction, bolstering homeland security and solving other nationally important problems, including energy and environmental security, basic science and economic competitiveness.

    The Laboratory is located on a one-square-mile (2.6 km2) site at the eastern edge of Livermore. It also operates a 7,000 acres (28 km2) remote experimental test site, called Site 300, situated about 15 miles (24 km) southeast of the main lab site. LLNL has an annual budget of about $1.5 billion and a staff of roughly 5,800 employees.

    LLNL was established in 1952 as the University of California Radiation Laboratory at Livermore, an offshoot of the existing UC Radiation Laboratory at Berkeley. It was intended to spur innovation and provide competition to the nuclear weapon design laboratory at Los Alamos in New Mexico, home of the Manhattan Project that developed the first atomic weapons. Edward Teller and Ernest Lawrence,[2] director of the Radiation Laboratory at Berkeley, are regarded as the co-founders of the Livermore facility.

    The new laboratory was sited at a former naval air station of World War II. It was already home to several UC Radiation Laboratory projects that were too large for its location in the Berkeley Hills above the UC campus, including one of the first experiments in the magnetic approach to confined thermonuclear reactions (i.e. fusion). About half an hour southeast of Berkeley, the Livermore site provided much greater security for classified projects than an urban university campus.

    Lawrence tapped 32-year-old Herbert York, a former graduate student of his, to run Livermore. Under York, the Lab had four main programs: Project Sherwood (the magnetic-fusion program), Project Whitney (the weapons-design program), diagnostic weapon experiments (both for the Los Alamos and Livermore laboratories), and a basic physics program. York and the new lab embraced the Lawrence “big science” approach, tackling challenging projects with physicists, chemists, engineers, and computational scientists working together in multidisciplinary teams. Lawrence died in August 1958 and shortly after, the university’s board of regents named both laboratories for him, as the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory.

    Historically, the Berkeley and Livermore laboratories have had very close relationships on research projects, business operations, and staff. The Livermore Lab was established initially as a branch of the Berkeley laboratory. The Livermore lab was not officially severed administratively from the Berkeley lab until 1971. To this day, in official planning documents and records, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is designated as Site 100, Lawrence Livermore National Lab as Site 200, and LLNL’s remote test location as Site 300.[3]

    The laboratory was renamed Lawrence Livermore Laboratory (LLL) in 1971. On October 1, 2007 LLNS assumed management of LLNL from the University of California, which had exclusively managed and operated the Laboratory since its inception 55 years before. The laboratory was honored in 2012 by having the synthetic chemical element livermorium named after it. The LLNS takeover of the laboratory has been controversial. In May 2013, an Alameda County jury awarded over $2.7 million to five former laboratory employees who were among 430 employees LLNS laid off during 2008.[4] The jury found that LLNS breached a contractual obligation to terminate the employees only for “reasonable cause.”[5] The five plaintiffs also have pending age discrimination claims against LLNS, which will be heard by a different jury in a separate trial.[6] There are 125 co-plaintiffs awaiting trial on similar claims against LLNS.[7] The May 2008 layoff was the first layoff at the laboratory in nearly 40 years.[6]

    On March 14, 2011, the City of Livermore officially expanded the city’s boundaries to annex LLNL and move it within the city limits. The unanimous vote by the Livermore city council expanded Livermore’s southeastern boundaries to cover 15 land parcels covering 1,057 acres (4.28 km2) that comprise the LLNL site. The site was formerly an unincorporated area of Alameda County. The LLNL campus continues to be owned by the federal government.


    DOE Seal

  • richardmitnick 12:36 pm on June 26, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Biology, Catherine Drennan, , , Drennan seized on X-ray crystallography as a way to visualize molecular structures., ,   

    From MIT News: Women in STEM- “For Catherine Drennan, teaching and research are complementary passions” 

    MIT News

    From MIT News

    June 26, 2019
    Leda Zimmerman

    “Really the most exciting thing for me is watching my students ask good questions, problem-solve, and then do something spectacular with what they’ve learned,” says Professor Catherine Drennan. Photo: James Kegley

    Professor of biology and chemistry is catalyzing new approaches in research and education to meet the climate challenge.

    Catherine Drennan says nothing in her job thrills her more than the process of discovery. But Drennan, a professor of biology and chemistry, is not referring to her landmark research on protein structures that could play a major role in reducing the world’s waste carbons.

    “Really the most exciting thing for me is watching my students ask good questions, problem-solve, and then do something spectacular with what they’ve learned,” she says.

    For Drennan, research and teaching are complementary passions, both flowing from a deep sense of “moral responsibility.” Everyone, she says, “should do something, based on their skill set, to make some kind of contribution.”

    Drennan’s own research portfolio attests to this sense of mission. Since her arrival at MIT 20 years ago, she has focused on characterizing and harnessing metal-containing enzymes that catalyze complex chemical reactions, including those that break down carbon compounds.

    She got her start in the field as a graduate student at the University of Michigan, where she became captivated by vitamin B12. This very large vitamin contains cobalt and is vital for amino acid metabolism, the proper formation of the spinal cord, and prevention of certain kinds of anemia. Bound to proteins in food, B12 is released during digestion.

    “Back then, people were suggesting how B12-dependent enzymatic reactions worked, and I wondered how they could be right if they didn’t know what B12-dependent enzymes looked like,” she recalls. “I realized I needed to figure out how B12 is bound to protein to really understand what was going on.”

    Drennan seized on X-ray crystallography as a way to visualize molecular structures. Using this technique, which involves bouncing X-ray beams off a crystallized sample of a protein of interest, she figured out how vitamin B12 is bound to a protein molecule.

    “No one had previously been successful using this method to obtain a B12-bound protein structure, which turned out to be gorgeous, with a protein fold surrounding a novel configuration of the cofactor,” says Drennan.

    Carbon-loving microbes show the way

    These studies of B12 led directly to Drennan’s one-carbon work. “Metallocofactors such as B12 are important not just medically, but in environmental processes,” she says. “Many microbes that live on carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, or methane — eating carbon waste or transforming carbon — use metal-containing enzymes in their metabolic pathways, and it seemed like a natural extension to investigate them.”

    Some of Drennan’s earliest work in this area, dating from the early 2000s, revealed a cluster of iron, nickel, and sulfur atoms at the center of the enzyme carbon monoxide dehydrogenase (CODH). This so-called C-cluster serves hungry microbes, allowing them to “eat” carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide.

    Recent experiments by Drennan analyzing the structure of the C-cluster-containing enzyme CODH showed that in response to oxygen, it can change configurations, with sulfur, iron, and nickel atoms cartwheeling into different positions. Scientists looking for new avenues to reduce greenhouse gases took note of this discovery. CODH, suggested Drennan, might prove an effective tool for converting waste carbon dioxide into a less environmentally destructive compound, such as acetate, which might also be used for industrial purposes.

    Drennan has also been investigating the biochemical pathways by which microbes break down hydrocarbon byproducts of crude oil production, such as toluene, an environmental pollutant.

    “It’s really hard chemistry, but we’d like to put together a family of enzymes to work on all kinds of hydrocarbons, which would give us a lot of potential for cleaning up a range of oil spills,” she says.

    The threat of climate change has increasingly galvanized Drennan’s research, propelling her toward new targets. A 2017 study she co-authored in Science detailed a previously unknown enzyme pathway in ocean microbes that leads to the production of methane, a formidable greenhouse gas: “I’m worried the ocean will make a lot more methane as the world warms,” she says.

    Drennan hopes her work may soon help to reduce the planet’s greenhouse gas burden. Commercial firms have begun using the enzyme pathways that she studies, in one instance employing a proprietary microbe to capture carbon dioxide produced during steel production — before it is released into the atmosphere — and convert it into ethanol.

    “Reengineering microbes so that enzymes take not just a little, but a lot of carbon dioxide out of the environment — this is an area I’m very excited about,” says Drennan.

    Creating a meaningful life in the sciences

    At MIT, she has found an increasingly warm welcome for her efforts to address the climate challenge.

    “There’s been a shift in the past decade or so, with more students focused on research that allows us to fuel the planet without destroying it,” she says.

    In Drennan’s lab, a postdoc, Mary Andorfer, and a rising junior, Phoebe Li, are currently working to inhibit an enzyme present in an oil-consuming microbe whose unfortunate residence in refinery pipes leads to erosion and spills. “They are really excited about this research from the environmental perspective and even made a video about their microorganism,” says Drennan.

    Drennan delights in this kind of enthusiasm for science. In high school, she thought chemistry was dry and dull, with no relevance to real-world problems. It wasn’t until college that she “saw chemistry as cool.”

    The deeper she delved into the properties and processes of biological organisms, the more possibilities she found. X-ray crystallography offered a perfect platform for exploration. “Oh, what fun to tell the story about a three-dimensional structure — why it is interesting, what it does based on its form,” says Drennan.

    The elements that excite Drennan about research in structural biology — capturing stunning images, discerning connections among biological systems, and telling stories — come into play in her teaching. In 2006, she received a $1 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) for her educational initiatives that use inventive visual tools to engage undergraduates in chemistry and biology. She is both an HHMI investigator and an HHMI professor, recognition of her parallel accomplishments in research and teaching, as well as a 2015 MacVicar Faculty Fellow for her sustained contribution to the education of undergraduates at MIT.

    Drennan attempts to reach MIT students early. She taught introductory chemistry classes from 1999 to 2014, and in fall 2018 taught her first introductory biology class.

    “I see a lot of undergraduates majoring in computer science, and I want to convince them of the value of these disciplines,” she says. “I tell them they will need chemistry and biology fundamentals to solve important problems someday.”

    Drennan happily migrates among many disciplines, learning as she goes. It’s a lesson she hopes her students will absorb. “I want them to visualize the world of science and show what they can do,” she says. “Research takes you in different directions, and we need to bring the way we teach more in line with our research.”

    She has high expectations for her students. “They’ll go out in the world as great teachers and researchers,” Drennan says. “But it’s most important that they be good human beings, taking care of other people, asking what they can do to make the world a better place.”

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    MIT Seal

    The mission of MIT is to advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship that will best serve the nation and the world in the twenty-first century. We seek to develop in each member of the MIT community the ability and passion to work wisely, creatively, and effectively for the betterment of humankind.

    MIT Campus

  • richardmitnick 12:04 pm on June 26, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Biology, , , Dr Xiao Deng who is experimenting with electricity to grow and sustain a cluster of microbes from deep under the Earth., For life under the surface of the Earth which predominately consists of single-celled organisms finding energy is a challenge., Microbes rely on some novel methods to obtain energy, One of the most common autotrophic behaviors is photosynthesis, Recent studies have found that several kinds of microbes living in deep marine sediments can extract electrons from electrodes., Some microbes that live in oxygen-free marine environments can survive on hydrothermal vents deep in the sea.   

    From CSIROscope: “Unlocking the secrets of mysterious microbes” 

    CSIRO bloc

    From CSIROscope

    26 June 2019

    Fiona McFarlane
    Andrea Wild

    In the late 1700s, Luigi Galvani connected a lightning rod to a frog corpse in his backyard and waited for an impending electric storm to arrive. When lightning flashed nearby, energy coursed down the rod and the frog’s leg twitched! This supported his theory that animals generate electricity and use it to make their body move.

    Mary Shelley was so intrigued by the notion of a spark reanimating the dead that it inspired her to write the fabled tale of Frankenstein.

    The stuff of fiction – right? Maybe not! Meet our scientist, Dr Xiao Deng who is experimenting with electricity to grow and sustain a cluster of microbes from deep under the Earth.

    Dr Xiao Deng is working to solve a mystery and her results might be shocking.

    What do we want? Energy! When do we need it? Always!

    All living things require energy for life – from the smallest single-celled organisms to the biggest and most complex mammals.

    On the Earth’s surface, the two main lifestyles for acquiring energy are autotrophy (meaning making your own food) and heterotrophy (which means eating food for energy).

    One of the most common autotrophic behaviors is photosynthesis. In this process, specialised molecules capture carbon from the air and bind it to water using energy produced from sunlight. Most plants, fungi and algae are autotrophs whereas most animals are heterotrophs.

    For life under the surface of the Earth, which predominately consists of single-celled organisms, finding energy is a challenge.

    Below the surface, there is no light to power photosynthesis and finding organic matter and oxygen are rare. Microbes rely on some novel methods to obtain energy.

    Who doesn’t love some chemistry?

    Some microbes that live in oxygen-free marine environments can survive on hydrothermal vents deep in the sea. The water from the vents is rich in dissolved minerals. These microbes use chemical energy (not sunlight) to produce food in a process called chemosynthesis.

    Photosynthesis and chemosynthesis are both processes by which organisms produce their own food. While photosynthesis is powered by sunlight, chemosynthesis runs on chemical energy.

    In contrast, the methods used by microbes to obtain energy in subsurface environments, which are predominantly made up of solid rock, is still poorly understood. In fact, more than 99 per cent of subsurface microbes can’t be cultivated in the laboratory by conventional methods using organics or gases.

    The black smoker hydrothermal vent supports microbial life. Credit: NOAA Photo Library

    We gonna’ rock down to Electric (microbes) Avenue

    Recent studies have found that several kinds of microbes living in deep marine sediments can extract electrons from electrodes. An electrode is a solid electric conductor that carries electric current into non-metallic objects. These microbes are kept alive with electricity and nothing else, no sugars or other kinds of electron donors.

    Scientists are thinking that in the energy-scarce subsurface, microbes may use rock itself as a source of energy. Unlike any other living things on Earth, electric microbes may acquire energy in the shape of electrons harvested directly from the surface of rocks.

    This is a new and exciting area of study made challenging by the lack of knowledge on the subsurface biosphere and the difficulty in accessing subsurface samples.

    Dr Deng is looking to verify the possibility of microbes interacting with the surface of rocks for energy and document a method for growing electric microbes in the lab.

    This will create new opportunities to study the poorly understood subsurface biosphere that is estimated to account for more than half of all microbial life on earth.

    A view of corrosive bacteria on an iron surface taken with a scanning electron microscope.

    Opening a future to new compounds

    Since humans first discovered the world of microbiology we have been discovering how useful they can be.

    Today, about half of the drugs on the market were discovered by screening collections of small molecules made by bacteria, fungi, snails, leeches and other similar species.

    However, all our current medications are effective against only one-third of diseases because of increased antibiotic resistance.

    There is an urgent need to find new biologically active compounds.

    If this research is successful, it could open the door to using the untapped subsurface microbial resource for biosynthesis of new compounds such as antioxidants, antibiotics and anticancer drugs.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    SKA/ASKAP radio telescope at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) in Mid West region of Western Australia

    So what can we expect these new radio projects to discover? We have no idea, but history tells us that they are almost certain to deliver some major surprises.

    Making these new discoveries may not be so simple. Gone are the days when astronomers could just notice something odd as they browse their tables and graphs.

    Nowadays, astronomers are more likely to be distilling their answers from carefully-posed queries to databases containing petabytes of data. Human brains are just not up to the job of making unexpected discoveries in these circumstances, and instead we will need to develop “learning machines” to help us discover the unexpected.

    With the right tools and careful insight, who knows what we might find.

    CSIRO campus

    CSIRO, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, is Australia’s national science agency and one of the largest and most diverse research agencies in the world.

Compose new post
Next post/Next comment
Previous post/Previous comment
Show/Hide comments
Go to top
Go to login
Show/Hide help
shift + esc
%d bloggers like this: