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

"We wanted to know not only what could potentially be made from Crocosphaera's genome, but also what proteins Crocosphaera actually did make," Saito said.

A key part of the technique involves using mass spectrometers that distinguish and measure the various proteins in an organism by the infinitesimal differences in their masses. The researchers measured the inventory of iron-containing proteins during periods of dark and light. Nitrogen-fixing enzymes were largely absent during the day and present at night; iron-containing photosynthetic enzymes decreased during dark periods and reappeared during light periods. Thus, at any time of day, Crocsophaera required only about half the iron it would need if it maintained both sets of enzymes throughout the day.

To explore the implications of Crocosphaera's hot bunking ability, scientists at MITStephanie Dutkiewicz, Fanny Monteiro and Mick Followsused a numerical model that simulates global ocean circulation, biochemistry, and ecosystem dynamics. The model showed that Crocosphaera's ability to reduce its iron requirements allowed it to inhabit ocean regions with low levels of iron. It also allowed the same iron supply to support more growth of the cyanobacteria and more nitrogen fixation that supports other marine life higher up on the food chain.


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