Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

The Marine Nitrogen Cycle - Revisited

03.03.2009
Predicting the ocean's role for global climate requires a profound understanding of the cycling of matter in the sea. Regarding nitrogen losses, scientists were apparently off the mark. A novel study reveals the complex interactions in the nitrogen cycle of the Eastern Tropical South Pacific oxgen minimum zone.

Induced by global warming, regions of oxygen-poor water - so-called oxgen minimum zones - are expanding in the world's oceans. That has significant consequences on the marine habitat and fisheries, as higher organisms avoid these regions.

The global elemental cycles of carbon and nitrogen are closely linked to oxgen minimum zones. Therefore, detailed knowledge of these cycles is essential for predicting the effects of climate change on the oceans as well as possible feedback mechanisms. A study by an international group of scientists around Phyllis Lam from the Max-Planck-Institute for Marine Microbiolgy in Bremen, Germany, published in the journal "PNAS", brings us a big step closer to this understanding.

The scientists concentrated on the nitrogen cycle of the Peruvian oxgen minimum zone in the eastern Tropical South Pacific. This region is one out of three regoins in the world's oceans where nitrogen escapes from seawater. "For a long time, this loss was attributed to denitrification, which transforms nitrate to gaseous nitrogen, which can then escape to the atmosphere", Lam explains. "This picture is changing: Apparently, the so-called anammox-bacteria are responsible for the major part of the lost nitrogen. However, up to now it has been unclear where the anammox-bacteria obtain their resources for this transformation." Moreover, the lack of denitrification strongly questions our understanding of the closely-linked carbon cycle - if not by denitrification, how else is organic matter degraded in these oxygen-depleted waters?

Lam's results shake the previous assumptions about the nitrogen cycle in the Peruvian oxygen minimum zone. Experiments as well as molecular analyses show that several processes (presenting the layman with quite some technical terms) are involved: The major proportion of nitrogen is indeed lost through Anammox. It is directly coupled to nitrate reduction and aerobic ammonia oxidation (the first step of nitrification) for sources of NO2-.

The NH4+ required by anammox originates from dissimilatory nitrate reduction (DNRA) and remineralization of organic matter via nitrate reduction and likely microaerobic respiration. The importance of the single processes varies between shelf and open ocean settings as well as the depth layers of the OMZ. Besides, the finding of DNRA itself is also surprising, because up till now, it has generally been considered insignificant in the open ocean.

Therewith, Lam and her colleagues challenge the prevailing opinion that nitrate from the deep sea is responsible for all the nitrogen losses from the Ocean. Its fraction sums up to only about 50 percent, while the remaining losses were attributed to remineralized nitrogen (originating from organic material).

Hitherto existing calculations of nitrogen losses, relying only on measurements of the nitrate deficit, may therefore have substantially underestimated the effective losses from the Ocean - particularly if the same applies to the other OMZs in the world. "Especially the role of remineralized nitrogen needs to be reconsidered". Lam points out, "That is the only way to enable reliable predictions about the future role of the oceans for global climate."

Background 1: The marine nitrogen cycle

All lives on Earth depend on nitrogen, as it is essential for the making of cell components such as proteins and DNA. However, organisms can't use all forms of nitrogen, therefore only a part of the nitrogen present in the ocean determines the productivity of the whole ecosystem. The conversion of different forms of nitrogen is carried out by specialized microorganisms.

In the ocean, nitrogen in the form of ammonium (NH4+) is mainly set free by the degradation of organic matter. In a central step known as nitrification, ammonium is being transferred to nitrite (NO2-) and subsequently to nitrate (NO3-). This process consumes oxygen. With several intermediate steps, the nitrate is subsequently transformed to elemental nitrogen (gaseous nitrogen, N2) in the absence of oxygen. This reaction is termed denitrification. All transformations are mediated by microorganisms. The gaseous N2 bubbles up and leaves the ocean. A few years ago, scientists at the Max Planck Institute in Bremen discovered the process of anaerobic oxidation of ammonium (ANAMMOX) in the oceans. In this process, anammox-bacteria transform ammonium directly with nitrite to gaseous nitrogen (N2) under oxygen-free conditions.

Background 2: Oxygen Minimum Zones

The Oxgen Minimum Zone (OMZ) is an oxygen-depleted layer of water, usually in 200 to 1000 m water depth. Although oxygen minimum zone waters constitute only about 0.1% of the total ocean volume in the world, 20-40% of total oceanic nitrogen loss is estimated to occur therein.

Background 3: The methods

For their analyses, Lam and her colleagues used the stable isotope of nitrogen (15N), allowing them to trace single transformations in high detail. Furthermore, they analysed the parallel gene expression - that is, when organisms are signalling their cell machineries to build the required enzymes.

Fanni Aspetsberger

For further information please contact:
Dr. Phyllis Lam Tel. +49 (0)421 2028 644; plam@mpi-bremen.de
or the MPI press officers:
Dr. Manfred Schlösser Tel. +49 (0)421 2028 704; mschloes@mpi-bremen.de
Dr. Fanni Aspetsberger Tel. +49 (0)421 2028 704; faspetsb@mpi-bremen.de
Original article: Revising the Nitrogen Cycle in the Peruvian Oxygen Minimum Zone. Phyllis Lam, Gaute Lavik, Marlene M. Jensen, Jack van de Vossenberg, Markus Schmid, Dagmar Woebken, Dimitri Gutiérrez, Rudolf Amann, Mike S. M. Jetten and Marcel M. M. Kuypers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0812444106
Participating institutions:
Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, Celsiusstrasse 1, D-28359 Bremen, Germany.
Microbiology, IWWR, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen, the Netherlands.
Dirección de Investigaciones Oceanográficas, Instituto del Mar del Perú, Esquina Gamarra y General Valle S/N Chucuito Callao, Peru.

Dr. Fanni Aspetsberger | Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Further information:
http://www.mpi-bremen.de

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Molecular Force Sensors
20.09.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Biochemie

nachricht Foster tadpoles trigger parental instinct in poison frogs
20.09.2017 | Veterinärmedizinische Universität Wien

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Tiny lasers from a gallery of whispers

New technique promises tunable laser devices

Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...

Im Focus: Ultrafast snapshots of relaxing electrons in solids

Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!

When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...

Im Focus: Quantum Sensors Decipher Magnetic Ordering in a New Semiconducting Material

For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.

Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...

Im Focus: Fast, convenient & standardized: New lab innovation for automated tissue engineering & drug

MBM ScienceBridge GmbH successfully negotiated a license agreement between University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) and the biotech company Tissue Systems Holding GmbH about commercial use of a multi-well tissue plate for automated and reliable tissue engineering & drug testing.

MBM ScienceBridge GmbH successfully negotiated a license agreement between University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) and the biotech company Tissue Systems...

Im Focus: Silencing bacteria

HZI researchers pave the way for new agents that render hospital pathogens mute

Pathogenic bacteria are becoming resistant to common antibiotics to an ever increasing degree. One of the most difficult germs is Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

“Lasers in Composites Symposium” in Aachen – from Science to Application

19.09.2017 | Event News

I-ESA 2018 – Call for Papers

12.09.2017 | Event News

EMBO at Basel Life, a new conference on current and emerging life science research

06.09.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Molecular Force Sensors

20.09.2017 | Life Sciences

Producing electricity during flight

20.09.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Tiny lasers from a gallery of whispers

20.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>