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New research from the University of East Anglia reveals how soil bacteria build the only known enzyme for the destruction of the potent global warming and ozone-depleting gas nitrous oxide.
Alongside carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane, the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide (N2O), commonly known as 'laughing gas', is now a cause for great concern, and there is much international focus on reducing emissions.
Findings - Today - Chemical - Science - Way
It is hoped that the findings, published today in the journal Chemical Science, will help pave the way for strategies to mitigate the damaging effects of this climate changing gas.
N2O has around 300 times the global warming potential of CO2 and stays in the atmosphere for about 120 years, where it accounts for around nine per cent of total greenhouse gas.
Ozone - Layer - Potency - Chlorofluorocarbons - CFCs
It also destroys the ozone layer with similar potency to the now banned chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).
Atmospheric levels of N2O are rising year on year as microorganisms break down synthetic nitrogen fertilisers which are added to agricultural soil, to satisfy the food supply demands of an ever-increasing global population.
Prof - Nick - Le - Brun - UEA
Prof Nick Le Brun from UEA's School of Chemistry, said: "It is well known that some bacteria can 'breathe' N2O in environments where oxygen (O2) is limited.
"This ability is entirely dependent on an enzyme called 'nitrous oxide reductase', which is the only enzyme known to destroy N2O. It is therefore very important for controlling levels of this climate-changing gas.
Soil - Bacteria - Use - Enzyme
"We wanted to find out more about how soil bacteria use this enzyme to destroy nitrous oxide."
The part of the enzyme where N2O is consumed (called the 'active site') is unique in biology, consisting of a complex arrangement of copper and sulfur (a copper-sulfide cluster). Until now, knowledge of how this unusual...
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