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A newly discovered bacterial denitrification symbiosis

By Leonard Ho - Posted Aug 16, 2013 09:00 AM
Scientists from the University of Southern California have discovered a novel partnership between two strains of bacteria that chain themselves together. One bacteria consumes nitrate, converting it to nitrite and ammonium while another bacteria that rides along below consumes its upstairs neighbor's waste product and converts it to N2 gas.
A newly discovered bacterial denitrification symbiosis

Thioploca. Photo Credit: Victor Gallardo, Carola Espinoza, Center Copas, Universidad de Concepcíon, Chile, 2006.

According to USC's news report:

Long, thin, hairlike Thioploca (meaning “sulfur braids” in Spanish) trichomes form chains down into marine sediment, which tiny anammox cells ride down like an elevator. At the bottom, the anammox cells consume nitrite and ammonium, or “fixed” nitrogen, the waste products of the Thioploca.

As Thioploca moves down through the sentiment and encounters sulfide (produced by the reaction between organic matter in the mud with seawater sulfate), the bacteria produces nitrite (NO2) and ammonium (NH4+).  Consequently, anammox cells attached below consumes the NO2 and NH4+ waste products, in turn producing di-nitrogen gas (N2) that bubbles up and out of the local ecosystem.

This "incredibly elegant chemical tandem between two chemolithotrophs," as the lead researcher Maria Prokopenko describes them, sheds light on how denitrification reactors (which are fed sulfate) and deep sand beds may function.  Prokopenko states it best: “The symbiotic pair builds a very efficient natural ‘waste-treatment plant’ — destroying substantial quantities of fixed nitrogen while linking sulfur and nitrogen cycles in oxygen-free sediments."

Read more about this really cool symbiosis at:!/article/53828/newly-discovered-bacterial-partnership-changes-ocean-chemistry/

Author: Leonard Ho
Location: Southern California

I'm a passionate aquarist of over 30 years, a coral reef lover, and the blog editor for Advanced Aquarist. While aquarium gadgets interest me, it's really livestock (especially fish), artistry of aquariums, and "method behind the madness" processes that captivate my attention.


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