A new way of surveying microbes for the metals they contain reveals that biologists have been relying on the equivalent of a 15th century map of the world.
It turns out that there are many more metal-containing proteins in microbes than previously recognized.
This means the microbial world boasts a broader and more diverse array of metal-driven chemical processes than scientists have imagined. In fact, most have yet to be discovered, according to a first-of-its-kind survey of the metals in three microbes conducted by scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in collaboration with scientists at the University of Georgia.
Their research will help chart a more complete understanding of the far-reaching roles of microbial metals in biology and the Earth's climate. It could also lead to new ways to harness metal-driven chemical processes to create next-generation biofuels or to clean up environmental contaminants.
Microbes assimilate metals from their environment and incorporate them into proteins in order to power life's most important chemical processes, such as photosynthesis, respiration, and DNA repair. Metal-containing proteins in microbes also helped oxygenate the planet's atmosphere billions of years ago, enabling life as we know it, and they continue to play a critical role in the Earth's carbon cycle.
But the diversity and extent of microbial metals had eluded scientists until now.
"This is a huge surprise. It reveals how naive we are about the wide range of chemistries that microbes do," says John Tainer of Berkeley Lab's Life Sciences Division and the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, CA. Tainer conducted the research with Michael Adams of the University of Georgia and a team of scientists that includes Steven Yannone and Gary Siuzdak of Berkeley Lab's Life Sciences Division.
The scientists report their research July 18 in an advance online pu
|Contact: Dan Krotz|
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory