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Press release

April- 2024

Bacteria for climate-neutral chemicals of the future

     Researchers at ETH Zurich have engineered bacteria in the laboratory to efficiently use methanol. The metabolism of these bacteria can now be tapped into to produce valuable products currently made by the chemical industry from fossil fuels. To produce various chemicals such as plastics, dyes or artificial flavors, the chemical industry currently relies heavily on fossil resources such as crude oil. "Globally, it consumes 500 million tons per year, or more than one million tons per day," says Julia Vorholt, Professor at the Institute of Microbiology at ETH Zurich.

Source: Phys

 

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Marine microbial populations: Potential sensors of the global change in the ocean

     Animal and plant populations have been extensively studied, which has helped to elucidate ecosystem processes and evolutionary adaptations. However, this has not been the case with microbial populations, due to the impossibility of isolating, culturing and analyzing the genetic content of the different species and their individuals in the laboratory. Therefore, although it is known that populations of microorganisms include a great diversity, it remains largely uncharacterized. Now, a new study from the Institut de Ciències del Mar (ICM-CSIC) recently published in the journal Microbiome highlights the potential of marine microbial populations as indicators of global change. Specifically, the work analyzes the knowledge generated to date on marine microbial populations and their role in the ecosystem, concluding that their analysis through space and time could reflect the effects of global change.

Source: Phys

 

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Could microbes be the answer to detoxifying Scottish water sources?

     Scottish researchers are discovering new ways of combating environmental damage caused by acid mine drainage in Scotland by studying bacteria that can degrade dangerous waste products. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, are sequencing the DNA of bacteria found in areas polluted by acid mine drainage. They have discovered that the bacteria not only survived but had the potential to detoxify the environment by removing polluting heavy metals.

Source: Phys

 

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First-of-its-kind integrated dataset enables genes-to-ecosystems research

     A team of Department of Energy scientists led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory has released the first-ever dataset bridging molecular information about the poplar tree microbiome to ecosystem-level processes. The project aims to inform research regarding how natural systems function, their vulnerability to a changing climate, and, ultimately, how plants might be engineered for better performance as sources of bioenergy and natural carbon storage.

Source: Phys

 

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March- 2024

Research suggests natural electrical grid deep inside Earth enables many types of microbes to survive

     To "breathe" in an environment without oxygen, bacteria in the ground beneath our feet depend upon a single family of proteins to transfer excess electrons (produced during the "burning" of nutrients) to electric hairs called nanowires projecting from their surface. This family of proteins, in essence, acts as plugs that power these nanowires to create a natural electrical grid deep inside the Earth, which enables many types of microbes to survive and support life, said co-senior authors of the new study published in the journal Nature Communications.

Source: Phys

 

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Genes identified that allow bacteria to thrive despite toxic heavy metal in soil

     Some soil bacteria can acquire sets of genes that enable them to pump the heavy metal nickel out of their systems, a study has found. This enables the bacteria to not only thrive in otherwise toxic soils but help plants grow there as well. A Washington State University-led research team pinpointed a set of genes in wild soil bacteria that allows them to do this in serpentine soils which have naturally high concentrations of toxic nickel. The genetic discovery, detailed in the journal Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, could help inform future bioremediation efforts that seek to return plants to polluted soils.

Source: Phys

 

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Valorization of depolymerized lignin using microorganisms

     Lignin is an abundant natural polymer which is eliminated as a byproduct in the pulp and paper industry. A recent review article explored different microbial processes available for sustainable lignin valorization, yielding not only environmental but also economic benefits. The article was published in the journal BioDesign Research.Researchers highlight the current advancements as well as challenges faced while using naturally occurring and engineered microbes to transform depolymerized lignin into valuable high-value products.

Source: Phys

 

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New deep-sea worm discovered at methane seep off Costa Rica

     Greg Rouse, a marine biologist at UC San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and other researchers have discovered a new species of deep-sea worm living near a methane seep some 50 kilometers (30 miles) off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Rouse, curator of the Scripps Benthic Invertebrate Collection, co-authored a study describing the new species in the journal PLOS ONE.

Source: Phys

 

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February- 2024

Targeting seed microbes to improve seed resilience

     Fonio (Digitaria exilis), a type of millet, is the oldest indigenous crop in West Africa and one of the fastest-maturing cereals. Despite its low yield, the combination of quick maturation and drought tolerance and its ability to thrive in poor soils make it a useful model for understanding how cereals can adapt to future climate change conditions. Nutritionally, fonio is comparable to other millets, says KAUST researcher Naheed Tabassum, but yields are much lower than the major cereal crops rice, maize, and wheat. Tabassum believes fonio could complement staple crops amid climate change and desertification challenges.

Source: Phys

 

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Microbial comics: RNA as a common language, presented in extracellular speech-bubbles

     Single-celled organisms, such as bacteria and archaea, have developed many ways to communicate with each other. For example, they might use tiny so-called extracellular vesicles (EVs)—membrane-enveloped packages smaller than 200 nm in diameter (0.0002 mm). The organisms produce them by budding from their membrane into the surrounding space. These EVs can contain a variety of molecules such as enzymes, nutrients, RNA and even fragments of DNA. Though it is suspected that they play a key role in microbial communities, little is known about their function or how they are produced.

Source: Phys

 

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Without social distancing, how do bacteria survive a viral epidemic?

     Like humans struggling to get through the COVID-19 pandemic, bacterial cells need social distancing to thwart viruses. But in some situations, such as inside elevators or within the candy-colored bacterial structures known as "pink berries," staying apart just isn't feasible. Looking like spilled Nerds or Pop Rocks, the communal, multicellular pink berries litter the submerged surface of salt marshes in and around Woods Hole.

Source: Phys

 

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If plants can pick fungi to help fight pests and diseases, it opens a door to greener farming and ecosystem recovery

     Just beneath your feet, an ancient and silent alliance endures. This alliance between plants and arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi is one of the oldest biological partnerships on Earth. Going back almost half-a-billion years, this relationship paved the way for plants to make it onto land. These early plants, simple and without the complex root systems of plants today, forged an alliance with fungi. This alliance has been instrumental to the evolution of plant life and has helped shape our ecosystems.

Source: Phys

 

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January- 2024

Translating nuclear waste site data into microbial ecosystem insights

     A flagship seven-year study led by the University of Oklahoma that explores how environmental stresses influence different ecological processes shaping the composition and structure of microbial communities in groundwater, has been published in the journal Nature Microbiology. Led by Jizhong Zhou, director of the Institute for Environmental Genomics at OU, this research focused on community assembly, which is about dynamic and complex processes that shape the composition and structure of microbial communities. Researchers use this concept to understand how different microbial species come to inhabit an environment, how they interact with each other and the environment, and how these interactions influence the overall functioning of the ecosystem.

Source: Phys

 

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Viruses aren't always harmful. Six ways they're used in health care and pest control

     We tend to just think of viruses in terms of their damaging impacts on human health and lives. The 1918 flu pandemic killed around 50 million people. Smallpox claimed 30% of those who caught it, and survivors were often scarred and blinded. More recently, we're all too familiar with the health and economic impacts of COVID. But viruses can also be used to benefit human health, agriculture and the environment.

Source: Phys

 

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Analysis of two decades' worth of antibiotic resistance shows antibiotic use is not the only driver of superbugs by Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

     For the first time, researchers have analyzed the impact of antibiotic use on the rise of treatment-resistant bacteria over the last 20 years in the UK and Norway. They show that while the increase in drug use has amplified the spread of superbugs, it is not the only driver. Researchers from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, the University of Oslo, the University of Cambridge, and collaborators conducted a high-resolution genetic comparison of bacteria. They compared over 700 new blood samples with nearly 5,000 previously sequenced bacterial samples to answer questions about what factors influence the spread of antibiotic-resistant Escherichia coli (E. coli).

Source: Phys

 

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Scientists sequence full genome of sea cucumber inhabiting hydrothermal vent

     Hydrothermal vents are an unlikely environment for animals to flourish, characterized by rapid changes in temperature and a challenging chemistry: acidic pH, rich in sulfur and methane. Not to mention the high hydrostatic pressure and the darkness of the deep sea. A team of scientists at the Sanya Institute of Deep-sea Science and Engineering (China) have now sequenced the full genome of a particularly unusual inhabitant of the hydrothermal vent environment: the sea cucumber Chiridota heheva. The research has been accepted for publication in the journal GigaScience.

Source: Phys

 

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