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'Hot-bunking' bacterium recycles iron to boost ocean metabolism
Date:1/10/2011

bit of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde lifestyle: photosynthetic by day and nitrogen-fixing by night," said Mak Saito, a WHOI biogeochemist and lead author of the PNAS paper. Scientists previously knew cyanobacteria had this unusual dual-metabolic capacity, but they did not know how they could accomplish it with meager iron supplies.

The bacterium pays a price in energy needed to destroy and rebuild enzymes each day, but it's worth it to maximize the use of scarce iron. The scientists estimate that by using the hot bunking strategy, the organism can survive with about 40 percent less iron than it would otherwise need. It allows Crocosphaera to thrive and produce life-sustaining organic nitrogen in iron-poor waters that would otherwise be less productive.

The surprising abundance of cyanobacteria in the ocean was discovered in the 1970s by WHOI microbiologist Stanley Watson and his colleagues Frederica Valois and John Waterbury and, who later continued their pioneering research to elucidate cyanobacteria's critical ecological roles for the ocean and the planet. Crocosphaera watsonii is named after the late Dr. Watson.

Cyanobacteria have been notoriously difficult to culture in the laboratory. At WHOI, Waterbury, Valois and colleagues established methods to culture cyanobacteria routinely and reliably, and they maintain a collection of cyanobacteria cells in a new building called the Stanley W. Watson Laboratory. The collection is a sort of lending library of cells that provide cultures for scientists all over the world to study, including new generations of WHOI scientists working in the Watson Lab: Saito, graduate student Erin Bertrand, and lab associates Vladimir Bulygin and Dawn Moran.

They applied new biomedical research techniques to the study of the ocean: proteomics. As genomics studies the genes in an organism (its genome), proteomics studies the proteins made from instructions encoded in genes (its proteome).


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Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Source:Eurekalert

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