Fixating On Nitrogen Inside USC Labs
Discovering a new strain of bacteria sounds like something that could land you in the doctor’s office — or worse. Luckily for USC marine biology Ph.D. student Lily Momper, the strain she found in the waters of the North Pacific makes the oceans healthy rather than making people sick.
“They’re fertilizing the ocean,” she explains.
They do so by converting unusable nitrogen gas into ammonia, a form of the element available to plants and ultimately animals. Through this process, called “nitrogen fixation,” these microscopic bacteria make life on Earth possible—since nitrogen occurs in amino acids, proteins and nucleic acids, including DNA.
“If you calculate the ‘nitrogen budget,’ that tells you how many fish we can have in the ocean, because they have to get their nitrogen from somewhere,” says Momper.
Given her newly discovered marine bacteria strain from the genus Cyanothece, this “nitrogen budget” could be much bigger than previously thought.
Nitrogen-fixing bacteria such as Cyanothece are “the link between the atmosphere and the ocean,” says Momper. “That’s why they’re important.”
Reach Contributor Christy Lytal here.