Scientists believe the organism and its plant-like cousins, including algae, were responsible for producing the first oxygen on Earth, more than 2.5 billion years ago. It's a sure bet that you have inhaled oxygen molecules produced by Synechococcus, which today contributes a significant proportion of the oxygen available on Earth.
The organism is attractive to scientists for a number of reasons. It's adept at converting carbon dioxide into other molecules, such as fatty acids, that are of interest to energy researchers. Synechococcus is easy for scientists to change and manipulate as they explore new ideas. And it grows quickly, doubling in approximately two hours. A patch just two feet wide by seven feet long roughly the area of a typical dining room table could blossom into an area the size of a football field in just one day.
Biofuels makers and other scientists are trying to exploit this ability to churn out quantities of materials that might serve as biofuel. Synechococcus is also remarkably hardy, capable of tolerating the stress caused by intense sunlight, which kills many other cyanobacteria. Redox reactions that take place throughout the organism are at the core of this ability, and understanding them gives scientists a treasured global view of how the cell lives and responds to change.
Some researchers are working to get the bacteria itself to create biofuel, growing an organism with more fatty acids that could be converted to diesel fuel. Others, like Wright, are working to understand the organism more completely, to direct the organism to create fuels using light and carbon dioxide.
Wright's team found the signals by keeping the bacteria hungry, then suddenly flooding it with food a massive, immediate change in environment. Within 30 seconds, the team detected redox activity, which changes the way p
|Contact: Tom Rickey|
DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory