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Professors Noah Burns and Steve Boxer get one rung closer to understanding strange ladderane lipids

Ladderane Natural Products

These strangely structured ladderane natural products could help scientists understand how anammox bacteria turn ammonium and nitrite into gaseous nitrogen and water. 

Sep 12 2018

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Faculty, In the News

Peculiar natural products are embedded in organelle membranes inside ammonium-oxidizing bacteria that are crucial to the nitrogen cycle. 

Since their unlikely discovery in wastewater sludge at the tail end of the past century, anaerobic ammonium oxidation (anammox) bacteria have been spotted in all manner of aquatic settings. These bacteria consume ammonium (NH4+) and nitrite (NO2-), churning out gaseous nitrogen (N2) and water (H2O). Scientists estimate that this unique process may account for up to half of all oceanic nitrogen.

From the start researchers have sought to harness the microbes to remove ammonium, which is released into the environment by the increasing use of agricultural fertilizers, from wastewater. But studying these microbes, much less manipulating them, hasn’t been easy. The bacteria grow slowly, doubling every one to two weeks, and are extremely sensitive to oxygen, which means that scientists wishing to extract certain enzymes have to handle them in airtight gloveboxes.

Now, in a step towards understanding these enigmatic bacteria, researchers at Stanford University have investigated two key molecules found in the membrane of the bacteria’s anammoxosome, the organelle where the ammonia-oxidizing process is thought to occur. 

Read the full story on Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN)