Tungsten as interstellar radiation shielding?

July 09, 2019

A boiling point of 5900 degrees Celsius and diamond-like hardness in combination with carbon: tungsten is the heaviest metal, yet has biological functions - especially in heat-loving microorganisms. A team led by Tetyana Milojevic from the Faculty of Chemistry at the University of Vienna report for the first time rare microbial-tungsten interactions at the nanometer range. Based on these findings, not only the tungsten biogeochemistry, but also the survivability of microorganisms in outer space conditions can be investigated. The results appeared recently in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology.

As a hard and rare metal, tungsten, with its extraordinary properties and highest melting point of all metals, is a very unlike choice for a biological system. Only a few microorganisms, such as thermophilic archaea or cell nucleus-free microorganisms, have adapted to the extreme conditions of a tungsten environment and found a way to assimilate tungsten. Two recent studies by biochemist and astrobiologist Tetyana Milojevic from the Department of Biophysical Chemistry, Faculty of Chemistry at the University of Vienna, shed light on the possible role of microorganisms in a tungsten-enriched environment and describe a nanoscale tungsten-microbial interface of the extreme heat- and acid-loving microorganism Metallosphaera sedula grown with tungsten compounds (Figures 1, 2). It is also this microorganism that will be tested for survivability during interstellar travel in future studies in outer space environment. Tungsten could be an essential factor in this.

From tungsten polyoxometalates as life-sustaining inorganic frameworks to the microbial bioprocessing of tungsten ores

Similar to ferrous sulfide mineral cells, artificial polyoxometalates (POMs) are considered as inorganic cells in facilitating prelife chemical processes and displaying "life-like" characteristics. However, the relevance of POMs to life-sustaining processes (e.g., microbial respiration) has not yet been addressed. "Using the example of Metallosphaera sedula, which grows in hot acid and respires through metal oxidation, we investigated whether complex inorganic systems based on tungsten POM clusters can sustain the growth of M. sedula and generate cellular proliferation and division." says Milojevic. Scientists were able to show that the use of tungsten-based inorganic POM clusters enables the incorporation of heterogeneous tungsten redox species into microbial cells. The organometallic deposits at the interface between M. sedula and W-POM were dissolved down to the nanometer range during fruitful cooperation with the Austrian Center for Electron Microscopy and Nanoanalysis (FELMI-ZFE, Graz)." Our findings add tungsten-encrusted M. sedula to the growing records of biomineralized microbial species, among which archaea are rarely represented," said Milojevic. The biotransformation of tungsten mineral scheelite performed by the extreme thermoacidophile M. sedula leads to the breakage of scheelite structure, subsequent solubilization of tungsten, and tungsten mineralization of microbial cell surface (Figure 3). The biogenic tungsten carbide-like nanostructures described in the study represent a potential sustainable nanomaterial obtained by the environmentally friendly microbial-assisted design.

Tungsten armor in outer space

"Our results indicate that M. sedula forms tungsten-bearing mineralized cell surface via encrusting with tungsten carbide-like compounds," explains biochemist Milojevic. This tungsten-encrusted layer formed around the cells of M. sedula may very well represent a microbial strategy to withstand harsh environmental conditions, such as during an interplanetary journey. Tungsten encapsulation can serve as a potent radioprotective armor against harsh environmental conditions. "The microbial tungsten armor allows us to further study the survivability of this microorganism in outer space environment," concludes Milojevic.
-end-
Publication in "Frontiers in Microbiology"

Milojevic T*, Albu M, Blazevic A, Gumerova N, Konrad L and Cyran N (2019) Nanoscale Tungsten-Microbial Interface of the Metal Immobilizing Thermoacidophilic Archaeon Metallosphaera sedula Cultivated With Tungsten Polyoxometalate. Front. Microbiol. 10:1267. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2019.01267

https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2019.01267

Blazevic A, Albu M, Mitsche S, Rittmann S, Habler G and Milojevic T* (2019) Biotransformation of scheelite CaWO4 by the extreme thermoacidophile Metallosphaera sedula: tungsten-microbial interface. Front. Microbiol. 10:1492. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2019.01492

https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2019.01492

University of Vienna

Related Microorganisms Articles from Brightsurf:

A more resistant material against microorganisms is created to restore cultural heritage
The study was performed by a research team at the University Research Institute into Fine Chemistry and Nanochemistry at the University of Cordoba and Seville's Institute of Natural Resources and Agrobiology of the Spanish National Research Council

NYUAD study finds gene targets to combat microorganisms binding to underwater surfaces
A group of synthetic biologists at NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) have identified new genetic targets that could lead to safe, biologically-based approaches to combat marine biofouling - the process of sea-based microorganisms, plants, or algae binding to underwater surfaces.

Less flocking behavior among microorganisms reduces the risk of being eaten
When algae and bacteria with different swimming gaits gather in large groups, their flocking behaviour diminishes, something that may reduce the risk of falling victim to aquatic predators.

Are vultures spreaders of microbes that put human health at risk?
A new analysis published in IBIS examines whether bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms that are present in wild vultures cause disease in the birds, and whether vultures play a role in spreading or preventing infectious diseases to humans and other animal species.

Timing key in understanding plant microbiomes
Oregon State University researchers have made a key advance in understanding how timing impacts the way microorganisms colonize plants, a step that could provide farmers an important tool to boost agricultural production.

Advances in the production of minor ginsenosides using microorganisms and their enzymes
Advances in the Production of Minor Ginsenosides Using Microorganisms and Their Enzymes - BIO Integration https://bio-integration.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/bioi20200007.pdf Announcing a new article publication for BIO Integration journal.

Study shows how microorganisms survive in harsh environments
In northern Chile's Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on Earth, microorganisms are able to eke out an existence by extracting water from the rocks they colonize.

Microorganisms in parched regions extract needed water from colonized rocks
Cyanobacteria living in rocks in Chile's Atacama Desert extract water from the minerals they colonize and, in doing so, change the phase of the material from gypsum to anhydrite.

Verticillium wilt fungus killing millions of trees is actually an army of microorganisms
A research project studied the microbiome of olive tree roots and concluded that Verticillium wilt is fueled by a community of microorganisms that team up to attack plants, thus reassessing the way this problem is dealt with

New drug formulation could treat Candida infections
With antimicrobial resistance (AMR) increasing around the world, new research led by the University of Bristol has shown a new drug formulation could possibly be used in antifungal treatments against Candida infections.

Read More: Microorganisms News and Microorganisms Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.