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The element nitrogen is an indispensable building block of all biomolecules and therefore of great importance to all organisms. In addition, some members of the microbial community have specialized in using various nitrogen compounds as energy source for optimal growth. This is especially the case amongst anaerobic ammonium oxidizers: These bacteria do not require oxygen for their metabolism but instead, convert two important nitrogen compounds, ammonium and nitrite, into nitrogen gas, which accounts for about 80 percent of the earth's atmosphere. Through this reaction, these microorganisms play an important role in the detoxification of nitrogen compounds that are increasingly released into the environment through the use of fertilizers.
Andrade and her team from the Faculty of Chemistry and Pharmacy at the University of Freiburg have identified an unusual protein in such bacteria: Half of it resembles known transport proteins for ammonium ions and the other half belongs to a group of signal transducing proteins. This led to the suspicion that two building blocks, already existing in nature, had been combined in a modular way to enable a completely new functionality: the detection of...
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