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Carbon Cycle: Four Cells Turn Seabed Microbiology Upside Down

Single-celled archaea are invisible to the naked eye, and even when using a microscope, great care must be taken to observe them. An international team of researchers led by the Center for Geomicrobiology, Aarhus University, Denmark, has nevertheless succeeded in retrieving four archaeal cells from seabed mud and mapping the genome of each one.

"Until now, nobody knew how these widespread mud-dwelling archaea actually live. Mapping the genome from the four archaeal cells shows they all have genes that enable them to live on protein degradation," says Professor Karen Lloyd, now at the University of Tennessee, and leading author of the ground-breaking results published in the journal Nature.

Scientists previously thought that proteins were only broken down in the sea by bacteria, but archaea have now turned out to be important new key organisms in protein degradation in the seabed. Proteins actually make up a large part of the organic matter in the seabed and -- since the seabed has the world's largest deposit of organic carbon -- archaea thus appear to play an important and previously unknown role in the global carbon cycle.
 
 

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