Microbiology

Marine hydrocarbon cycling revealed

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Science  06 Nov 2015:
Vol. 350, Issue 6261, pp. 647
DOI: 10.1126/science.350.6261.647-a

Ocean-dwelling Synechococcus cyanobacteria can produce hydrocarbons

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Up to 4 million tons of crude oil leak into the oceans every year as a result of human activities and natural seepage. But hydrocarbons and hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria abound even in waters minimally polluted by oil. Knowing that cyanobacteria have the capacity to produce long-chain alkanes and are abundant in surface waters, Lea-Smith et al. set out to determine whether these bacteria are a significant source of hydrocarbons. It turns out that together, the cyanobacteria Prochlorococcus and Synecoccus produce up to 700 million tons of hydrocarbons per year via their alkane biosynthetic pathways. These cyanobacteria may help to sustain hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria and thus unwittingly help to mitigate some fraction of anthropogenic pollution in the ocean.

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 10.1073/pnas.1507274112 (2015).

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