Microbiologists from the University of Nijmegen have discovered that a methane-forming archaeabacterium sometimes deliberately allows hydrogen ions to leak out of its cell. At high hydrogen concentrations in particular, the cell membrane works as a sort of pressure valve. The waste of energy seems to be of vital importance for the microorganism.
The researchers examined how a bacterium adapts to changing circumstances. The study focussed on the behaviour of the relatively simple methane producing microorganism Methanothermobacter thermoautotrophicus. In order to grow, this so-called archaeabacterium obtains hydrogen from the environment. However, the quantity of hydrogen, that is the food available, can vary considerably. The methane bacterium seems to use this to its advantage.
At high hydrogen concentrations, thus an excess of food, the bacterium grows as quickly as possible. In so doing the organism loses energy but at this point in time plenty of energy is available anyway. Furthermore, this wastage is a bonus as it results in the difference between the hydrogen ion concentrations inside and outside of the cell becoming smaller. Under these circumstances this is desirable, as otherwise a range of processes in the cell might cease to continue.
Michel Philippens | alfa
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