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By proving a theory that was first proposed almost 40 years ago, researchers have confirmed a new way that cells conserve energy.
The study, led by William Metcalf, G. William Arends Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology and leader of the Mining Microbial Genomes research theme at the University of Illinois Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, was published in mBio and gives scientists a better understanding of how organisms conserve energy and function as a part of the global carbon cycle.
Living - Organisms - Energy - Grow - Reproduce
All living organisms need to conserve energy to move, grow and reproduce. Cells conserve energy by creating a molecule called ATP, and they usually do this by making a chemical gradient across their cell membrane, which gives them the energy to create ATP.
There are several ways to make this gradient—plants use light energy through photosynthesis, and humans and animals use chemical energy. These methods have been thoroughly studied, but in 1981, a scientist named Harry Peck proposed another method for energy conservation: a process called hydrogen cycling.
Hydrogen - Cell - Membranes - Hydrogen - Cell
Hydrogen can easily move across cell membranes. Peck proposed that hydrogen in the cell could diffuse to the outside of the cell, where enzymes would recapture it and make hydrogen ions, which would create the chemical gradient needed to conserve energy.
The theory was widely criticized. Critics said it would be too difficult for the cell to recapture hydrogen in this way.
Nobody - Metcalf - People - Deal - Skepticism
"Nobody really believed it," Metcalf said. "Most people really had a great deal of skepticism about it."
Then, eight years ago, Metcalf and his lab were studying methane-producing organisms, which use hydrogen gas to grow. These organisms use a set of enzymes called hydrogenases to create and consume hydrogen.
Metcalf - Lab - Mutants - Hydrogenases - Gene
Metcalf and his lab began to create mutants of these hydrogenases and found that when the gene for hydrogenases was turned off, the cells died—but these...
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