Arsenic-breathing life discovered in Pacific

earthsky.org | 5/12/2019 | Eleanor Imster
bab_ohhbab_ohh (Posted by) Level 3
Click For Photo: https://en.es-static.us/upl/2019/05/scientist-pacific-ocean-300x192.jpeg

Researchers fix the line on an instrument that pumps large volumes of seawater in order to extract DNA. The instrument on the left measures properties such as temperature, salinity and depth and collects smaller samples of seawater. Image via Noelle Held/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Arsenic is a deadly poison for most living things, but new research has found microorganisms in a low-oxygen area of the Pacific Ocean that breathe arsenic.

University - Washington - Professor - Oceanography - Gabrielle

University of Washington professor of oceanography Gabrielle Rocap is a co-author of the study, published April 29, 2019 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Rocap said in a statement:

We’ve known for a long time that there are very low levels of arsenic in the ocean. But the idea that organisms could be using arsenic to make a living — it’s a whole new metabolism for the open ocean.

Team - Samples - Research - Cruise - Pacific

The team analyzed samples collected during a 2012 research cruise to the tropical Pacific, off the coast of Mexico. The seawater samples came from a region below the surface, where oxygen is almost absent. Rocap said:

In some parts of the ocean there’s a sandwich of water where there’s no measurable oxygen. The microbes in these regions have to use other elements that act as an electron acceptor to extract energy from food.

Atom - Oxygen - Atoms - Atom - Oxygen

A purple arsenic atom surrounded by four oxygen atoms is arsenate (left). An arsenic atom surrounded by three oxygen atoms is arsenite (right). The study found evidence of marine organisms that can convert one to the other to get energy in oxygen-deficient environments. Image via Wikimedia.

Genetic analyses on DNA extracted from the seawater found two genetic pathways that are known to convert arsenic-based molecules as a way to gain energy.

Researchers - Microbes - Water

According to the researchers, the microbes discovered in the water are probably distantly related...
(Excerpt) Read more at: earthsky.org
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