“Bacteria that fix nitrogen only do so when they sense that there is very little nitrogen available in their environment,” says Professor Ray Dixon (Project Leader at the JIC. “Normally the genes for nitrogen fixation are locked off and only unlocked and used when nitrogen levels in the environment fall. We have discovered a key piece of biochemistry that allows us to better understand how the lock operates and so may allow us to alter how it works”.
The bacterium Azotobacter vinelandii is able to fix atmospheric nitrogen when available nitrogen in its environment falls below a threshold level. Nitrogen fixation requires a great deal of energy and so the genes that carry out nitrogen fixation (so called nif genes) are tightly regulated and switched off when not required.
The nif genes are regulated by the action of two proteins, called NifL and NifA. NifA stimulates the activity of nif genes, while NifL normally binds to NifA and renders it inactive. Thus whether the nif genes are active or not depends on the interaction between these two proteins. Both proteins are sensitive to biochemical signals that occur in the bacterial cell when conditions are right for nitrogen fixation. The proteins’ physical shape and structure alters in response to these signals and this affects their ability to bind to one another. The result is that, when conditions are right for nitrogen fixation, NifA is released from the grip of NifL and is then able to stimulate the activity of the nif genes and so switches on nitrogen fixation by the cell.
Rainbow colors reveal cell history: Uncovering β-cell heterogeneity
22.09.2017 | DFG-Forschungszentrum für Regenerative Therapien TU Dresden
The pyrenoid is a carbon-fixing liquid droplet
22.09.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Biochemie
Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.
A warming planet
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...
Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...
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...
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...
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22.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy