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5 December 2013 11:26 am ,
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An animal rights group known as the Nonhuman Rights Project filed lawsuits in three New York courts this week in an...
Researchers have been hot on the trail of the elusive Denisovans, a type of ancient human known only by their DNA and...
Thousands of scientists in the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) are about to lose their jobs as a result of the...
Dyslexia, a learning disability that hinders reading, hasn't been associated with deficits in vision, hearing, or...
Exotic, elusive, and dangerous, snakes have fascinated humankind for millennia. They can be hard to find, yet their...
Researchers have sequenced and analyzed the first two snake genomes, which represent two evolutionary extremes. The...
Snake venoms are remarkably complex mixtures that can stun or kill prey within minutes. But more and more researchers...
At age 30, Dutch biologist Freek Vonk has built up a respectable career as a snake scientist. But in his home country,...
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Deep-Sea Bacterium Breaks All the Rules
20 June 2005 (All day)
Researchers have found the first photosynthetic organism that lives off a light source other than the sun. The creature, a bacterium that resides in the inky depths of the ocean, appears to derive energy from a still mysterious light source near deep-sea hydrothermal vents. If true, the discovery could offer clues about life on early earth--or on other planets.
Since their discovery in 1977, deep-sea hydrothermal vents have offered up a surprising menagerie, including 2-meter tube worms and eyeless crabs, that thrives in total darkness (ScienceNOW, 29 April and (ScienceNOW 10 March, 1999). This world became slightly less gloomy two decades later when researchers proved that the water around the vents produces a shine beyond the infrared light from geothermal radiation. Although this curious vent glow is too weak to be detected by human eyes, it has a frequency well into the visible spectrum.
To determine if the so-called vent glow can sustain photosynthetic life, Cindy Van Dover, a marine biologist at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, formed a research team that included Thomas Beatty, a microbiologist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, Robert Blankenship, a biochemist at Arizona State University in Tempe, and others. In 2003, the team descended 2.4 kilometers in the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution research submarine ALVIN to retrieve samples from a pair of vents that lie along the volcanically active Pacific ridge.
The search paid off. Reporting online this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team describes the first example of a photosynthetic organism that doesn't need the sun to live. As long as it gets sulfur and CO2, the bacterium--known as GSB1 for the time being--seems to get by on the kind of light provided by vent glow.
"The results break new ground and are indeed surprising," says Bob Buchanan, a microbiologist at the University of California, Berkeley. One open question, he says, is whether GSB1 "is a long term resident in the area surrounding the vent or whether it ... spends much of its life elsewhere." To quash such doubts, Beatty is already planning a mission to isolate photosynthesizers from other vents.