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Environment

Formate Energizes Microbes

Some species of archaea can survive with only formate providing for their energy needs

by Jyllian N. Kemsley
September 20, 2010 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 88, ISSUE 38

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Credit: Adapted from Nature
Formate powers Thermococcus' series of reactions that leads to ATP synthesis.
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Credit: Adapted from Nature
Formate powers Thermococcus' series of reactions that leads to ATP synthesis.

Some species of single-celled organisms called archaea can survive with only formate providing their energy needs, reports an international group led by Jung-Hyun Lee and Sung Gyun Kang of the Korea Ocean Research & Development Institute (Nature 2010, 467, 352). The work builds on a finding two years ago by Jan Dolfing and coworkers at Wageningen University, in the Netherlands, that communities of bacteria and archaea, each of which performed a different function, could also live off formate. Kim and colleagues determined that certain species of the Thermococcus genus of archaea survive by converting formate (HCOO) to CO2 and H 2 and then coupling that reaction to adenosine triphosphate (ATP) synthesis. By studying gene expression in the microbes, the researchers propose that a formate dehydrogenase enzyme converts HCOO to CO 2 and H+. A hydrogenase then turns the H+ into H while transporting additional H+ out of the cell. An “antiporter” protein brings H+ back into the cell while pushing out Na+. Finally, an ATP synthase uses the sodium gradient to drive ATP synthesis from adenosine diphosphate (ADP) and HPO4 2–.

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