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The exchange of nitrogen between the atmosphere and organic matter is crucial for life on Earth because nitrogen is a major component of essential molecules such as proteins and DNA. One major route for this exchange, discovered only in the 1990s, is the anammox pathway found in certain bacteria. It proceeds via hydrazine, a highly reactive substance used by humans as a rocket fuel. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research, in cooperation with scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Biophysics and Radboud University in the Netherlands, now describe the structure of the enzyme performing the last step in this process: turning hydrazine into nitrogen gas and harvesting the energy set free in this way. The results, which were just published in Science Advances, show an unprecedented network of heme groups for handling the large number of electrons released during the chemical conversion.
Nitrogen, in the form of nitrogen gas (N2), makes up about 80 percent of our atmosphere, but as an element nitrogen occurs only in small quantities in the Earth's crust. However, all living organisms require nitrogen, because it is part of most of their essential molecules. However, they cannot use atmospheric nitrogen directly and require it in a different chemical form. A number of bacteria perform such conversions and contribute to the biochemical nitrogen cycle (image) by producing more reactive forms of nitrogen.
Scientists - Process - Ammonium - Oxidation - Anammox
In the 1990s, scientists discovered a bacterial process called anaerobic ammonium oxidation (anammox). "We now believe this process is responsible for 30 to 70 percent of the yearly nitrogen removal from the oceans," explains Thomas Barends, group leader at the MPI for Medical Research in Heidelberg. "Due to this characteristic, anammox bacteria are used in sustainable wastewater treatment all over the world," Cornelia Welte of Radboud University adds. During this process, bacteria convert...
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