Fields and four collaborators conducted their research in the Center for Biofilm Engineering (CBE), using a common microorganism that converts hydrogen gas into methane. Methanococcus maripaludis is approximately one micron in diameter -- one millionth of a meter -- and can only be seen under the microscope. It is difficult to grow in a lab, one reason that researchers have been unable to verify earlier that Archaea organisms swim toward hydrogen gas, Fields said.
To conduct their research, the scientists created an oxygen-free environment in a fragile tube. Creating that environment was challenging, another reason that their discovery didn't occur earlier, Fields said.
After varying lengths of time, they released the cells into a solution to encounter hydrogen gas from the opposite end of the tube. That's where they proved what everyone had suspected that Archaea swim through liquid toward hydrogen gas.
Every step in their experiments had to be done without breaking the tube or introducing oxygen, Fields said. It also had to be done inside an incubator with microscopes and computers. Computer software tracked the cells, proved they responded to hydrogen gas, and determined their speed.
Considering that speed relates to body length, Fields said the microbes moved faster than cheetahs, the fastest land animal on Earth.
|Contact: Evelyn Boswell|
Montana State University