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 Researchers uncover protein-based “cancer signature”
05.12.2016 | Universität Basel

nachricht The Nagoya Protocol Creates Disadvantages for Many Countries when Applied to Microorganisms
05.12.2016 | Leibniz-Institut DSMZ-Deutsche Sammlung von Mikroorganismen und Zellkulturen GmbH

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

Im Focus: Molecules change shape when wet

Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water

In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

IHP presents the fastest silicon-based transistor in the world

05.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

InLight study: insights into chemical processes using light

05.12.2016 | Materials Sciences

High-precision magnetic field sensing

05.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>