Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Earth's life support systems discussed in an open-access special issue

03.02.2011
Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment issue examines the basic elements of life

In the search for life on Mars or any planet, there is much more than the presence of carbon and oxygen to consider. Using Earth's biogeochemical cycles as a reference point, elements like nitrogen, iron and sulfur are just as important for supporting life. As explored in studies published in February's open-access Special Issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, the most basic elements work together to support an extraordinary diversity of life.

Cycles of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorous are intertwined and rely on organisms just as much as organisms rely on these elements, explains Edward Rastetter from the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, in one of the issue's articles. For instance, fallen leaves on a forest floor supply food for microbes which excrete nutrients back into the soil, benefitting nearby trees.

Microbes transform raw materials—such as chemicals, gases and sunlight—into biomass by a variety of metabolic processes. These energy-converting processes are as diverse as the microbes that conduct them, and are much more diverse than the metabolic capabilities of plants or animals, according to Amy Burgin from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, and colleagues in one of the issue's articles.

Burgin and her team study rock-eating microbes, officially called chemolithotrophic microbes, and their roles in the ecosystems they inhabit. A well-known example habitat is the extreme environment of deep-sea hydrothermal vents, wherein these microbes metabolize dissolved minerals into organic forms of carbon that support complex food webs of tube worms, mussels and clams. These microbes and food webs have adapted to life without photosynthesis.

"While hydrothermal vents are an especially extreme environment where chemolithotrophic organisms play a particularly important and conspicuous role, they are also found in most aquatic environments, often at boundaries along oxygen-depleted zones of sediments or groundwater," says Burgin. "Their metabolic processes provide insight into the life forms that existed before Earth had an oxidized atmosphere. There were biogeochemical cycles, but they were driven by microbes that lived in the absence of oxygen, and these most ancient life forms persist today. Their activity helps drive biogeochemical cycling in today's world too."

In Frontiers' Life Lines column, Adrian Burton ponders a biogeochemical riddle of Mars where nitrogen is a major missing element. However, Mars may have once had much more nitrogen before losing it to space. "The interconnectedness of biogeochemical cycles is essential for life as we know it on Earth and would be for any life on Mars," says Burton. "But did any ancient Martian life that may have arisen get the time it needed to adapt to the Red Planet's changing environmental conditions, including disappearing nitrogen? Wouldn't it be nice to know!"

The Special Issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment on Coupled Biogeochemical Cycles is open access and available at http://www.esajournals.org/toc/fron/9/1. To subscribe to ESA press releases, access all of the Society's journals or reach experts in ecological science, contact Katie Kline, ESA Communications Officer, at katie@esa.org or 202-833-8773 x211.

The Ecological Society of America is the world's largest professional organization of ecologists, representing 10,000 scientists in the United States and around the globe. Since its founding in 1915, ESA has promoted the responsible application of ecological principles to the solution of environmental problems through ESA reports, journals, research, and expert testimony to Congress. ESA publishes four journals and convenes an annual scientific conference. Visit the ESA website at http://www.esa.org or find experts in ecological science at http://www.esa.org/pao/rrt/.

Katie Kline | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.esa.org

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht How fires are changing the tundra’s face
12.12.2017 | Gesellschaft für Ökologie e.V.

nachricht Using drones to estimate crop damage by wild boars
12.12.2017 | Gesellschaft für Ökologie e.V.

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.

Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...

Im Focus: Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

Detailed calculations show water cloaks are feasible with today's technology

Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...

Im Focus: Scientists channel graphene to understand filtration and ion transport into cells

Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.

To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

Im Focus: Successful Mechanical Testing of Nanowires

With innovative experiments, researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrums Geesthacht and the Technical University Hamburg unravel why tiny metallic structures are extremely strong

Light-weight and simultaneously strong – porous metallic nanomaterials promise interesting applications as, for instance, for future aeroplanes with enhanced...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

12.12.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Multi-year submarine-canyon study challenges textbook theories about turbidity currents

12.12.2017 | Earth Sciences

Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

12.12.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>