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Poison + water = hydrogen. New microbial genome shows how

Take a pot of scalding water, remove all the oxygen, mix in a bit of poisonous carbon monoxide, and add a pinch of hydrogen gas. It sounds like a recipe for a witch's brew. It may be, but it is also the preferred environment for a microbe known as Carboxydothermus hydrogenoformans.

In a paper published in the November 27th issue of PLoS Genetics, a research team led by scientists at The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) report the determination and analysis of the complete genome sequence of this organism. Isolated from a hot spring on the Russian volcanic island of Kunashir, this microbe lives almost entirely on carbon monoxide. While consuming this normally poisonous gas, the microbe mixes it with water, producing hydrogen gas as waste.

As the world increasingly considers hydrogen as a potential biofuel, technology could benefit from having the genomes of such microbes. "C. hydrogenoformans is one of the fastest-growing microbes that can convert water and carbon monoxide to hydrogen," remarks TIGR evolutionary biologist Jonathan Eisen, senior author of the PLoS Genetics study. "So if you're interested in making clean fuels, this microbe makes an excellent starting point."

In sequencing the microbe's genome, Eisen and his collaborators discovered why C. hydrogenoformans grows more rapidly on carbon monoxide than other species: The bug boasts at least five different forms of a protein machine, dubbed carbon monoxide deyhydrogenase, that is able to manipulate the poisonous gas. Each form of the machine appears to allow the organism to use carbon monoxide in a different way. Most other organisms that live on carbon monoxide have only one form of this machine. In other words, while other organisms may have the equivalent of a modest mixing bowl to process their supper of carbon monoxide, this species has a veritable food processor, letting it gorge on a hot spring buffet all day.

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Source:The Institute for Genomic Research


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