Friday, October 20, 2006

Noted from today's Washington Post

"Newfound Bacteria Fueled by Radiation" By David Brown.
A team of scientists has found bacteria living nearly two miles below ground in water spilling out of a fissure in a South African gold mine. Their underground home contains no nutrients traceable to photosynthesis. The chemistry involved appears as follows:
First, water molecules -- H2O -- are split by radioactive particles. The result is hydrogen, oxygen and hydrogen peroxide. The latter two substances then attack the mineral pyrite (also known as iron sulfide or "fool's gold"), making sulfate through a process called oxidation.

The bacteria then uses the hydrogen to turn the sulfate back to sulfide, a process known as reduction. In doing so, it captures some of the energy in the sulfate's chemical bonds, which it uses to make ATP, the molecule that is the universal coin of energy exchange in living things.
Comment: Since many planets that would not support normal earth-life have similar conditions to those harboring these microbes, the finding somewhat increases the likelihood of finding extra-terrestrial life. Perhaps more important in my lifetime, these microbes (or their genes) may have applications in areas such as mineral beneficiation, waste treatment, or industrial processes.

Algae Causing Jump In Ocean 'Dead Zones'
Scientists have found 200 "dead zones" in the world's oceans, a 34 percent jump from two years ago, a U.N. report yesterday showed.
Comment: Another sign of major environmental degredation with potentially dire consequences, reminding us of the failures of the Bush Administration's environmental policies!

Antarctic Ozone Hole Is Largest Measured
"From September 21 to 30, the average area of the ozone hole was the largest ever observed, at 10.6 million square miles," said Paul Newman, atmospheric scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt. That's larger than the area of North America.
Comment: Still another warning, and another reminder!

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