Nav: Home

Bacteria eats greenhouse gas with a side of protein

March 22, 2018

EVANSTON, Ill. --- With the ability to leech heavy metals from the environment and digest a potent greenhouse gas, methanotrophic bacteria pull double duty when it comes to cleaning up the environment.

But before researchers can explore potential conservation applications, they first must better understand the bacteria's basic physiological processes. Northwestern University's Amy C. Rosenzweig recently has constructed another section of the puzzle. Her laboratory has identified two never-before-studied proteins, called MbnB and MbnC, as partially responsible for the bacteria's inner workings.

"Our findings extend far beyond methanotrophic bacteria," said Rosenzweig, the Weinberg Family Distinguished Professor of Life Sciences and professor of molecular biosciences and chemistry in Northwestern's Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. "These two proteins are found in a range of other bacteria, including human pathogens."

The paper publishes tomorrow, March 23, in the journal Science.

Methanotrophic bacteria, or more simply "methanotrophs," take copper from the environment to install into the molecular machinery that metabolizes methane, turning it into methanol for food. To acquire copper, many methanotrophs secrete a chemically modified peptide called methanobactin, which tightly binds to copper ions to pull them into the cell. Until now, the cellular machinery that drives the formation of methanobactin has been little understood.

Rosenzweig's team discovered that two proteins - MbnB and MbnC - are partially responsible for the production of methanobactin. Together, these proteins form an iron-containing enzyme complex that converts an amino acid into two organic chemical groups. This chemistry results in methanobactin, which recruits copper into the cell. Rosenzweig and her team also discovered that these two proteins drive methanobactin production across all families of methanobactin-producing species, including non-methanotrophs.

"The involvement of a metal-requiring enzyme in forming these types of chemical groups is unprecedented, and neither of the two proteins have been studied previously," Rosenzweig said. "Moreover, similar enzymes seem to be produced in other contexts, suggesting that this chemistry is important beyond the production of methanobactin."

This discovery makes it easier for researchers to study methanobactin because they can work with the proteins in test tubes rather than manipulate entire living microorganisms. It also brings the world closer to methanotrophs' promising applications. Many people imagine using filters constructed from the bacteria to scrub methane out of the atmosphere or to help remove methane from natural gas reserves. But Rosenzweig believes that because of methanobactin production, methanotrophs have applications that extend beyond cleaning up the environment.

Because methanobactin binds copper so tightly, it has been investigated as a treatment for Wilson disease, a rare genetic disorder in which patients' bodies cannot eliminate the copper they ingest in food, so it accumulates in the brain and liver. Some researchers also believe that methanobactin has antibacterial properties and could be used in a new class of antibiotics.

"Now that we know which microbial genes and proteins to look for, and now that we know what some of the key proteins do, we can effectively predict which species will make new and different methanobactins," Rosenzweig said. "And we can test those compounds for bioactivities."
-end-
The study is titled "The biosynthesis of methanobactin." Grace E. Kenney, a graduate student in Rosenzweig's laboratory, served as the paper's first author.

The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health (award numbers GM118035, R01AT009143, U54-GM094662, U54 GM093342, P01 GM118303, R00GM111978 and F32GM110934 and by the National Science Foundation (award numbers MCB0842366 and MCB1330784).

Northwestern University

Related Bacteria Articles:

How bacteria fertilize soya
Soya and clover have their very own fertiliser factories in their roots, where bacteria manufacture ammonium, which is crucial for plant growth.
Bacteria might help other bacteria to tolerate antibiotics better
A new paper by the Dynamical Systems Biology lab at UPF shows that the response by bacteria to antibiotics may depend on other species of bacteria they live with, in such a way that some bacteria may make others more tolerant to antibiotics.
Two-faced bacteria
The gut microbiome, which is a collection of numerous beneficial bacteria species, is key to our overall well-being and good health.
Microcensus in bacteria
Bacillus subtilis can determine proportions of different groups within a mixed population.
Right beneath the skin we all have the same bacteria
In the dermis skin layer, the same bacteria are found across age and gender.
Bacteria must be 'stressed out' to divide
Bacterial cell division is controlled by both enzymatic activity and mechanical forces, which work together to control its timing and location, a new study from EPFL finds.
How bees live with bacteria
More than 90 percent of all bee species are not organized in colonies, but fight their way through life alone.
The bacteria building your baby
Australian researchers have laid to rest a longstanding controversy: is the womb sterile?
Hopping bacteria
Scientists have long known that key models of bacterial movement in real-world conditions are flawed.
Bacteria uses viral weapon against other bacteria
Bacterial cells use both a virus -- traditionally thought to be an enemy -- and a prehistoric viral protein to kill other bacteria that competes with it for food according to an international team of researchers who believe this has potential implications for future infectious disease treatment.
More Bacteria News and Bacteria Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Meditations on Loneliness
Original broadcast date: April 24, 2020. We're a social species now living in isolation. But loneliness was a problem well before this era of social distancing. This hour, TED speakers explore how we can live and make peace with loneliness. Guests on the show include author and illustrator Jonny Sun, psychologist Susan Pinker, architect Grace Kim, and writer Suleika Jaouad.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#565 The Great Wide Indoors
We're all spending a bit more time indoors this summer than we probably figured. But did you ever stop to think about why the places we live and work as designed the way they are? And how they could be designed better? We're talking with Emily Anthes about her new book "The Great Indoors: The Surprising Science of how Buildings Shape our Behavior, Health and Happiness".
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Third. A TED Talk.
Jad gives a TED talk about his life as a journalist and how Radiolab has evolved over the years. Here's how TED described it:How do you end a story? Host of Radiolab Jad Abumrad tells how his search for an answer led him home to the mountains of Tennessee, where he met an unexpected teacher: Dolly Parton.Jad Nicholas Abumrad is a Lebanese-American radio host, composer and producer. He is the founder of the syndicated public radio program Radiolab, which is broadcast on over 600 radio stations nationwide and is downloaded more than 120 million times a year as a podcast. He also created More Perfect, a podcast that tells the stories behind the Supreme Court's most famous decisions. And most recently, Dolly Parton's America, a nine-episode podcast exploring the life and times of the iconic country music star. Abumrad has received three Peabody Awards and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2011.