PerspectiveMicrobiology

Fantastic Fixers

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Science  16 Oct 2009:
Vol. 326, Issue 5951, pp. 377-378
DOI: 10.1126/science.1181129

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Summary

Current global ocean nitrogen budgets do not balance, which suggests that existing models miss or underestimate some contributions to oceanic nitrogen fixation (the conversion of N2 gas to a biologically usable form of nitrogen) (1, 2). However, recent studies have found higher rates of nitrogen fixation in coastal sediments (35) and more abundant nitrogen-fixing organisms in the open ocean (6) than previously observed. This exciting trend continues with the report on page 422 of this issue by Dekas et al. (7), who describe a community of archaea and bacteria in deep-sea “cold seep” sediments that can fix nitrogen. The study reveals direct evidence for a previously unknown environment for nitrogen fixation that can deliver biologically usable nitrogen to deep-sea sediments, and provides a link between the carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur cycles.