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Scientists find key to ocean bacterium that helps control greenhouse gas

es that drive photosynthesis by recruiting additional, or 'antenna' proteins.

Using genetic analyses, the researchers compared three strains of the bacteria that have adapted to varying light intensities at different ocean depths. They found that evolution of the two powerhouse protein complexes is directed by environmental constraints.

Prochlorococcus that survives in extreme low light conditions has more of the antenna proteins compared with strains that live close to the surface and iron is the limiting nutrient that regulates the organism's ability to harvest light energy.

"Iron is critical for the health of organisms and the low levels in the ocean significantly decreases the ability of Prochlorococcus to grow and reproduce," explained Professor Barber.

"Iron is the fourth most abundant element in the Earth's crust. Yet its levels in the aquatic ecosystem, particularly in open oceans where most cyanobacteria are found is low. Indeed, in experiments where regions of the ocean have been artificially 'seeded' with extra iron there is a dramatic increase in biomass production due to an increased amount of Prochlorococcus and other photosynthetic organisms. Our research opens up the possibility of artificially increasing ocean levels of iron to combat global warming."


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Contact: Judith Moore
j.h.moore@imperial.ac.uk
44-207-594-6702
Imperial College London
27-Aug-2003


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