Scientists at Oregon State University have successfully cultured in a laboratory a microorganism with a gene for an alternate form of photochemistry – an advance that may ultimately help shed light on the ecology of the worlds oceans.
The microorganism is SAR11, the smallest free living cell known and probably the most abundant organism in the seas. By being able for the first time to study the SAR11 "proteorhodopsin" gene in a laboratory, researchers will be able to better understand how it is activated, its role in the life and survival of SAR11, and how it affects ocean ecology. The findings are being published today in the journal Nature.
Surprisingly, the SAR11 bacteria continued to grow normally whether or not there was light available - indicating to OSU researchers that the cell does not require this energy producing mechanism in normal conditions. Its possible, they said, that this alternate form of photochemistry serves as a "backup" system to provide energy to the cells when they face starvation in the open ocean, which often has very limited nutrients.
Steve Giovannoni | EurekAlert!
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