Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Microbiologists Find A New Source Of Nitrogen Fixation; Corkscrew Bacteria In Termite Guts And Natural Waters Help Capture A Key Element

Date:
June 29, 2001
Source:
National Science Foundation
Summary:
Microbiologists have discovered that a type of bacteria found in termite guts and in fresh and salt water plays a major role in the process of nitrogen fixation. All organisms require the element to survive.

Microbiologists have discovered that a type of bacteria found in termite guts and in fresh and salt water plays a major role in the process of nitrogen fixation. All organisms require the element to survive.

In the June 29 issue of the journal Science, a team led by National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded microbiologist John Breznak of Michigan State University (MSU) reports that spirochetes - spiral and wavy-shaped bacteria - are important providers of nitrogen in termites, whose ability to thrive despite a nitrogen-poor diet of plant matter had posed a decades-old puzzle.

Although nitrogen gas makes up 80 percent of the air we breathe, only certain microbes can capture and use it for growth - a process called nitrogen fixation. Once nitrogen gas becomes "fixed" by microbes, it enters the food chain and is ultimately used by plants and animals.

Breznak began studying the symbiosis between termites and their gut microbes almost 30 years ago, when he discovered that bacterial nitrogen fixation occurs within termites and could furnish up to 60 percent of the insects' nitrogen needs. But the particular microbes performing that fixation had been unclear. With colleagues at MSU and the California Institute of Technology, Breznak made an important breakthrough in 1999 by isolating spirochetes from termite guts and growing them in test tubes where they can now be examined in detail.

"The spirochetes not only contained the genes for nitrogen fixation," Breznak said, "they performed nitrogen fixation at rates consistent with those seen in living termites. This was very exciting, because nitrogen fixation had never been described before in these fascinating, widely distributed bacteria."

The researchers then examined other spirochetes and found that nitrogen fixation also occurs in free-living, aquatic spirochetes, implying that their impact is global. They also found genes for nitrogen fixation in spirochetes that inhabit the human mouth and the intestinal tract of cows, but those spirochetes did not perform nitrogen fixation - either because the genes no longer function that way or only do so under yet-unknown conditions.

Most people think of termites in terms of their destructive potential, but less than five percent of all species cause significant damage. They are far more important as decomposers of dead plant material, according to Breznak. Likewise, many people think of microbes only in the context of disease, but his team's studies of termite guts continue to reveal new microbes with important functions, including how they contribute to animal nutrition.

"When one looks in unusual places, one often finds interesting things going on," he said.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by National Science Foundation. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

National Science Foundation. "Microbiologists Find A New Source Of Nitrogen Fixation; Corkscrew Bacteria In Termite Guts And Natural Waters Help Capture A Key Element." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 June 2001. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/06/010629064322.htm>.
National Science Foundation. (2001, June 29). Microbiologists Find A New Source Of Nitrogen Fixation; Corkscrew Bacteria In Termite Guts And Natural Waters Help Capture A Key Element. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/06/010629064322.htm
National Science Foundation. "Microbiologists Find A New Source Of Nitrogen Fixation; Corkscrew Bacteria In Termite Guts And Natural Waters Help Capture A Key Element." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/06/010629064322.htm (accessed July 29, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Deadly Ebola Virus Threatens West Africa

Deadly Ebola Virus Threatens West Africa

AP (July 28, 2014) West African nations and international health organizations are working to contain the largest Ebola outbreak in history. It's one of the deadliest diseases known to man, but the CDC says it's unlikely to spread in the U.S. (July 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating

Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating

AP (July 28, 2014) Classes are being offered nationwide to encourage African Americans to learn about cooking fresh foods based on traditional African cuisine. The program is trying to combat obesity, heart disease and other ailments often linked to diet. (July 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Asteroid's Timing Was 'Colossal Bad Luck' For The Dinosaurs

Asteroid's Timing Was 'Colossal Bad Luck' For The Dinosaurs

Newsy (July 28, 2014) The asteroid that killed the dinosaurs struck at the worst time for them. A new study says that if it hit earlier or later, they might've survived. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge from Nest

Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge from Nest

AP (July 27, 2014) A live-streaming webcam catches loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings emerging from a nest in the Florida Keys. (July 27) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins