The sea floor is strewn with raw materials that could be very important in the future: Manganese and iron, but also rarer and more precious elements such as cobalt, copper, zinc and nickel, are present in great quantities in the form of deep-sea nodules and crusts. The depositions of such materials from seawater and sediment is the result of a process known as "biomineralization".
Microorganisms such as bacteria and algae contribute to this process of nodule and crust accretion and catalyze the accumulation of metals, as has been shown by new research at the Institute of Physiological Chemistry and Pathobiochemistry at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. The new findings could, the scientists believe, contribute to an environment-friendly and sustainable use of valuable marine natural resources.
Competition for the resources on the seabed has already begun; the industrialized countries have already staked their claims and marked off regions with large re-serves of raw materials. "This is a potential source of international conflict," believes Professor Werner Müller of the University of Mainz. Once we understand exactly how the deep-sea nodules and crusts are created, we might perhaps in the not too distant future be in the position to develop strains of microorganisms that could very specifically "grow" important raw materials for us. Müller has been investigating the submarine world for over 30 years and is regarded as a pioneer of sponge research in Germany. But the interests of the qualified molecular biologist are not restricted to sponges, which he considers to offer a virtually inexhaustible source of raw materials, starting with bioactive substances for medical use to silicates for optic pathways. In his eyes, bacteria and algae are also genuine little magicians.
Manganese nodules are formed on the sea floor at depths of 4,000 to 5,000 meters. In the last 10 million years or so, an estimated 300 billion tonnes of manganese has accumulated in the form of nodules. "This is quite astonishing when you consider that the concentration of manganese in seawater is vanishingly?small," says Müller. Besides manganese, the nodules (which resemble potato tubers) also contain iron and non-ferrous heavy metals which accumulate in layers. Once a tiny bio-seed has formed, metal ions attach themselves continuously to the outer layer. Working in cooperation with Chinese scientists, mainly Professor Dr X. H. Wang, Müller has now discovered what triggers this process. According to their findings, the bio-seeds are bacteria that have an additional protein layer, known as the S-layer, on their outer membrane. "The outermost stratum of the S-layer is an ideal organic matrix that not only protects microorganisms against harmful environmental effects but also facilitates the deposition of minerals." Müller and his research partners have found complete chains of bacteria with S-layers in manganese nodules that provided the basis for the synthesis of the biomaterials. "Once the primary layer is present, autocatalysis takes over and the material completes the process itself."In the case of deep-sea crusts, a unicellular alga rather than a bacterium provides the bio-seed. The deep-sea crusts - also known as manganese or cobalt crusts - are found at depths of 800 to 2,400 meters and also contain significant quantities of valuable raw materials. They are created by coccolithophorides, a form of armoured algae that are completely encased in a protective shell of calcium carbonate. These algae live at a depth of around 100 meters. When they die, their protective shells fall to deeper levels where bonds with manganese ions are formed by means of chemi-cal transformation.
"Perhaps we can use nature as our model, so that in future we will also be able to exploit algae and bacteria to extract manganese and other metals from a seawater environment," explains Müller. This could help to defuse potential future conflict for resources and contribute to sustainable production, without damaging the deep-sea environment.
Petra Giegerich | idw
Asian dust providing key nutrients for California's giant sequoias
28.03.2017 | University of California - Riverside
Chlamydia: How bacteria take over control
28.03.2017 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg
The Institute of Semiconductor Technology and the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, both members of the Laboratory for Emerging Nanometrology (LENA), at Technische Universität Braunschweig are partners in a new European research project entitled ChipScope, which aims to develop a completely new and extremely small optical microscope capable of observing the interior of living cells in real time. A consortium of 7 partners from 5 countries will tackle this issue with very ambitious objectives during a four-year research program.
To demonstrate the usefulness of this new scientific tool, at the end of the project the developed chip-sized microscope will be used to observe in real-time...
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
28.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
28.03.2017 | Health and Medicine
28.03.2017 | Life Sciences