Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Phytoplankton Cell Membranes Challenge Fundamentals of Biochemistry

04.02.2009
Get ready to send the biology textbooks back to the printer. In a new paper published in Nature, Benjamin Van Mooy, a geochemist with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), and his colleagues report that microscopic plants growing in the Sargasso Sea have come up with a completely unexpected way of building their cells.

Until now, it was thought that all cells are surrounded by membranes containing molecules called phospholipids – oily compounds that contain phosphorus, as well as other basic biochemical nutrients including nitrogen.

However, Van Mooy and his colleagues from WHOI, the University of Southern California, University of Hawaii, the Czech Academy of Sciences, the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, University of Southern Maine, and the Centre d’Océanologie de Marseille have found phytoplankton in the Sargasso Sea that make their cell membranes without using phospholipids, using non-phosphorus-containing ‘substitute lipids’ instead.

These substitute lipids were once regarded as merely a molecular peculiarity of phytoplankton grown in the laboratory, but are now recognized to be used by phytoplankton throughout the world’s ocean.

Substitute lipids “are the most abundant membrane molecules in the sea and they were essentially unknown until now,” says Van Mooy, whose work at WHOI was supported by the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, and the WHOI Ocean Life Institute. The finding could help rewrite the fundamentals of cell biochemistry.

The Sargasso Sea is in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean – an area known for its short supply of phosphorus and nitrogen. A molecule of phosphorus dissolved in the Sargasso Sea remains there for perhaps an hour or two before a phosphorus-starved cell greedily absorbs it. For comparison, in the Pacific Ocean phosphorus may linger for nearly a year before being used by plankton.

But oceanographers find phytoplankton living and growing rather well in the Sargasso Sea. In particular, small photosynthetic bacteria called cyanobacteria flourish in a place where nutrients like phosphorus are in as short supply as water is in the desert. How are they doing it? These creative plankton build a membrane lipid called SQDG, a molecule based on sulfur rather than phosphorus. Van Mooy explains, “Cyanobacteria can make membranes that require essentially no nutrients, no phosphorus and no nitrogen. Totally no nutrients at all.”

Van Mooy found that cyanobacteria aren’t the only class of plankton building phosphate-free cell membrane lipids. When he and his co-authors studied the more complex eukaryotic phytoplankton in the Sargasso Sea they found “this whole other class of substitute lipids, which were betaine molecules. We are the first people to report finding these molecules in the ocean.” These betaine molecules have structures that resemble amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. But unlike the cyanobacterial SQDG, the betaine lipids require nitrogen. The more structurally sophisticated plants have dodged the phosphorus requirement, but they still have to have nitrogen.

Van Mooy thinks he’s on to something fundamental about the ways that phytoplankton survive in the ocean. Of his future research working out the dynamics of the membrane lipid substitutions Van Mooy says, “You could think of it like a tool. Something very basic. Maybe there is an underlying principle here that we will uncover.” Hold the presses on the textbooks until they do.

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a private, independent organization in Falmouth, Mass., dedicated to marine research, engineering, and higher education. Established in 1930 on a recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences, its primary mission is to understand the oceans and their interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate a basic understanding of the oceans’ role in the changing global environment.

Stephanie Murphy | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.whoi.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Symbiotic bacteria: from hitchhiker to beetle bodyguard
28.04.2017 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

nachricht Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis
28.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Grenzflächen- und Bioverfahrenstechnik IGB

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Fighting drug resistant tuberculosis – InfectoGnostics meets MYCO-NET² partners in Peru

28.04.2017 | Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Wireless power can drive tiny electronic devices in the GI tract

28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering

Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past

28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

28.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>