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Rushing fireball developed its own form of sugar digestion

19.04.2002


Microbiologists from Wageningen have discovered a strange form of digestion in an exotic microorganism. The `Rushing fireball´, Latin name Pyrococcus furiosus, has reinvented the wheel for several steps of sugar digestion.



Pyrococcus furiosus, which was discovered 15 years ago on an Italian volcanic island, digests sugar somewhat differently from humans, animals, plants and bacteria. All organisms, convert glucose into pyruvate by means of a glycolysis. Pyrococcus furiosus makes use of other, non-related enzymes.

Genealogical research has revealed that the enzymes in the ‘Rushing fireball’ have evolved independently from other microorganisms. In other words, Pyrococcus furiosus independently invented the wheel of sugar digestion. Meanwhile, with the help of gene technology, the Wageningen scientists are trying to make several of the sugar digestion enzymes suitable for industrial applications. Now that the route of the sugar digestion is known, the researchers are trying to find the regulation of this route. A first step has been taken. The researchers found the same piece of DNA prior to 21 genes connected to sugar digestion. The piece is present in the so-called promoter sequence. The 21 genes are involved in the digestion of alpha sugars such as maltose and starch. The piece probably plays an important role in the regulation of these genes. Since its discovery, Pyrococcus furiosus has attracted a lot of interest. The organism, discovered close to the beach on the Italian island of Vulcano, survives best in a salty environment at a temperature of 100oC. Pyrococcus is industrially interesting because its enzymes are not destroyed at higher temperatures. Scientists are studying the organism’s extraordinary living conditions and its variety of nutritional habits.

Michel Philippens | alphagalileo

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