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Concept: Redox


The permanent ice cover of Lake Vida (Antarctica) encapsulates an extreme cryogenic brine ecosystem (-13 °C; salinity, 200). This aphotic ecosystem is anoxic and consists of a slightly acidic (pH 6.2) sodium chloride-dominated brine. Expeditions in 2005 and 2010 were conducted to investigate the biogeochemistry of Lake Vida’s brine system. A phylogenetically diverse and metabolically active Bacteria dominated microbial assemblage was observed in the brine. These bacteria live under very high levels of reduced metals, ammonia, molecular hydrogen (H(2)), and dissolved organic carbon, as well as high concentrations of oxidized species of nitrogen (i.e., supersaturated nitrous oxide and ∼1 mmol⋅L(-1) nitrate) and sulfur (as sulfate). The existence of this system, with active biota, and a suite of reduced as well as oxidized compounds, is unusual given the millennial scale of its isolation from external sources of energy. The geochemistry of the brine suggests that abiotic brine-rock reactions may occur in this system and that the rich sources of dissolved electron acceptors prevent sulfate reduction and methanogenesis from being energetically favorable. The discovery of this ecosystem and the in situ biotic and abiotic processes occurring at low temperature provides a tractable system to study habitability of isolated terrestrial cryoenvironments (e.g., permafrost cryopegs and subglacial ecosystems), and is a potential analog for habitats on other icy worlds where water-rock reactions may cooccur with saline deposits and subsurface oceans.

Concepts: Oxygen, Carbon dioxide, Water, Hydrogen, Redox, Oxidizing agent, Nitrogen, Carbon


A singular adaptive phenotype of a parthenogenetic insect species (Acyrthosiphon pisum) was selected in cold conditions and is characterized by a remarkable apparition of a greenish colour. The aphid pigments involve carotenoid genes well defined in chloroplasts and cyanobacteria and amazingly present in the aphid genome, likely by lateral transfer during evolution. The abundant carotenoid synthesis in aphids suggests strongly that a major and unknown physiological role is related to these compounds beyond their canonical anti-oxidant properties. We report here that the capture of light energy in living aphids results in the photo induced electron transfer from excited chromophores to acceptor molecules. The redox potentials of molecules involved in this process would be compatible with the reduction of the NAD(+) coenzyme. This appears as an archaic photosynthetic system consisting of photo-emitted electrons that are in fine funnelled into the mitochondrial reducing power in order to synthesize ATP molecules.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Electron, Bacteria, Evolution, Adenosine triphosphate, Insect, Redox, Cellular respiration


We have developed an implantable fuel cell that generates power through glucose oxidation, producing 3.4 μW cm(-2) steady-state power and up to 180 μW cm(-2) peak power. The fuel cell is manufactured using a novel approach, employing semiconductor fabrication techniques, and is therefore well suited for manufacture together with integrated circuits on a single silicon wafer. Thus, it can help enable implantable microelectronic systems with long-lifetime power sources that harvest energy from their surrounds. The fuel reactions are mediated by robust, solid state catalysts. Glucose is oxidized at the nanostructured surface of an activated platinum anode. Oxygen is reduced to water at the surface of a self-assembled network of single-walled carbon nanotubes, embedded in a Nafion film that forms the cathode and is exposed to the biological environment. The catalytic electrodes are separated by a Nafion membrane. The availability of fuel cell reactants, oxygen and glucose, only as a mixture in the physiologic environment, has traditionally posed a design challenge: Net current production requires oxidation and reduction to occur separately and selectively at the anode and cathode, respectively, to prevent electrochemical short circuits. Our fuel cell is configured in a half-open geometry that shields the anode while exposing the cathode, resulting in an oxygen gradient that strongly favors oxygen reduction at the cathode. Glucose reaches the shielded anode by diffusing through the nanotube mesh, which does not catalyze glucose oxidation, and the Nafion layers, which are permeable to small neutral and cationic species. We demonstrate computationally that the natural recirculation of cerebrospinal fluid around the human brain theoretically permits glucose energy harvesting at a rate on the order of at least 1 mW with no adverse physiologic effects. Low-power brain-machine interfaces can thus potentially benefit from having their implanted units powered or recharged by glucose fuel cells.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Enzyme, Hydrogen, Redox, Electrochemistry, Carbon, Electrochemical cell, Electrolysis


Thirdhand smoke (THS) is the accumulation of secondhand smoke on environmental surfaces. THS is found on the clothing and hair of smokers as well as on surfaces in homes and cars of smokers. Exposure occurs by ingestion, inhalation and dermal absorption. Children living in homes of smokers are at highest risk because they crawl on the floor, touch parents' clothing/hair and household objects. Using mice exposed to THS under conditions that mimic exposure of humans, we show that THS increases cellular oxidative stress by increasing superoxide dismutase (SOD) activity and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) levels while reducing the activity of antioxidant enzymes catalase and glutathione peroxidase (GPx) that break down H2O2 into H2O and O2. This results in lipid peroxidation, protein nitrosylation and DNA damage. Consequences of these cell and molecular changes are hyperglycemia and insulinemia. Indeed, we found reduced levels of insulin receptor, PI3K, AKT, all important molecules in insulin signaling and glucose uptake by cells. To determine whether these effects on THS-induced insulin resistance are due to increase in oxidative stress, we treated mice exposed to THS with the antioxidants N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) and alpha-tocopherol (alpha-toc) and showed that the oxidative stress, the molecular damage, and the insulin resistance, were significantly reversed. Conversely, feeding the mice with chow that mimics “western diet”, which is known to increase oxidative stress, while exposing the mice to THS, further increased the oxidative stress and aggravated hyperglycemia and insulinemia. In conclusion, THS exposure results in insulin resistance in the form of non-obese type II diabetes (NODII) through oxidative stress. If confirmed in humans, these studies could have a major impact on how people view exposure to environmental tobacco toxins, in particular to children, elderly and workers in environments where tobacco smoke has taken place.

Concepts: Protein, Antioxidant, Redox, Oxidative stress, Reactive oxygen species, Superoxide dismutase, Hydrogen peroxide, Glutathione


Electronic cigarettes (ECs) are battery-operated devices designed to vaporise nicotine, which may help smokers quitting or reducing their tobacco consumption. There is a lack of data on the health effects of EC use among smokers with COPD and whether regular use results in improvement in subjective and objective COPD outcomes. We investigated long-term changes in objective and subjective respiratory outcomes in smokers with a diagnosis of COPD who quit or reduced substantially their tobacco consumption by supplementing with or converting only to ECs use.

Concepts: Redox, Smoking, Tobacco, Cigarette, Nicotine, Electronic cigarette


ABSTRACT Fe(II)-oxidizing aerobic bacteria are poorly understood, due in part to the difficulties involved in laboratory cultivation. Specific challenges include (i) providing a steady supply of electrons as Fe(II) while (ii) managing rapid formation of insoluble Fe(III) oxide precipitates and (iii) maintaining oxygen concentrations in the micromolar range to minimize abiotic Fe(II) oxidation. Electrochemical approaches offer an opportunity to study bacteria that require problematic electron donors or acceptors in their respiration. In the case of Fe(II)-oxidizing bacteria, if the electron transport machinery is able to oxidize metals at the outer cell surface, electrodes poised at potentials near those of natural substrates could serve as electron donors, eliminating concentration issues, side reactions, and mineral end products associated with metal oxidation. To test this hypothesis, the marine isolate Mariprofundus ferrooxydans PV-1, a neutrophilic obligate Fe(II)-oxidizing autotroph, was cultured using a poised electrode as the sole energy source. When cells grown in Fe(II)-containing medium were transferred into a three-electrode electrochemical cell, a cathodic (negative) current representing electron uptake by bacteria was detected, and it increased over a period of weeks. Cultures scraped from a portion of the electrode and transferred into sterile reactors consumed electrons at a similar rate. After three transfers in the absence of Fe(II), electrode-grown biofilms were studied to determine the relationship between donor redox potential and respiration rate. Electron microscopy revealed that under these conditions, M. ferrooxydans PV-1 attaches to electrodes and does not produce characteristic iron oxide stalks but still appears to exhibit bifurcate cell division. IMPORTANCE Electrochemical cultivation, supporting growth of bacteria with a constant supply of electron donors or acceptors, is a promising tool for studying lithotrophic species in the laboratory. Major pitfalls present in standard cultivation methods used for metal-oxidizing microbes can be avoided by the use of an electrode as the sole electron donor. Electrochemical cultivation also offers a window into the poorly understood metabolism of microbes such as obligate Fe(II), Mn(II), or S(0) oxidizers by replacing the electron source with the controlled surface of an electrode. The elucidation of redox-dependent behavior of these microbes could enhance industrial applications tuned to oxidation of specific metals, provide insight into how bacteria evolved to compete with oxygen for reactive metal species, and model geochemical impacts of their metabolism in the environment.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Bacteria, Redox, Electrochemistry, Cellular respiration, Electrode, Electrochemical cell, Electrolysis


The emergence of oxygen-producing (oxygenic) photosynthesis fundamentally transformed our planet; however, the processes that led to the evolution of biological water splitting have remained largely unknown. To illuminate this history, we examined the behavior of the ancient Mn cycle using newly obtained scientific drill cores through an early Paleoproterozoic succession (2.415 Ga) preserved in South Africa. These strata contain substantial Mn enrichments (up to ∼17 wt %) well before those associated with the rise of oxygen such as the ∼2.2 Ga Kalahari Mn deposit. Using microscale X-ray spectroscopic techniques coupled to optical and electron microscopy and carbon isotope ratios, we demonstrate that the Mn is hosted exclusively in carbonate mineral phases derived from reduction of Mn oxides during diagenesis of primary sediments. Additional observations of independent proxies for O2-multiple S isotopes (measured by isotope-ratio mass spectrometry and secondary ion mass spectrometry) and redox-sensitive detrital grains-reveal that the original Mn-oxide phases were not produced by reactions with O2, which points to a different high-potential oxidant. These results show that the oxidative branch of the Mn cycle predates the rise of oxygen, and provide strong support for the hypothesis that the water-oxidizing complex of photosystem II evolved from a former transitional photosystem capable of single-electron oxidation reactions of Mn.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Oxygen, Carbon dioxide, Evolution, Hydrogen, Redox, Oxidizing agent, Carbon


The extraordinary properties of graphene and carbon nanotubes motivate the development of methods for their use in producing continuous, strong, tough fibres. Previous work has shown that the toughness of the carbon nanotube-reinforced polymer fibres exceeds that of previously known materials. Here we show that further increased toughness results from combining carbon nanotubes and reduced graphene oxide flakes in solution-spun polymer fibres. The gravimetric toughness approaches 1,000 J g(-1), far exceeding spider dragline silk (165 J g(-1)) and Kevlar (78 J g(-1)). This toughness enhancement is consistent with the observed formation of an interconnected network of partially aligned reduced graphene oxide flakes and carbon nanotubes during solution spinning, which act to deflect cracks and allow energy-consuming polymer deformation. Toughness is sensitive to the volume ratio of the reduced graphene oxide flakes to the carbon nanotubes in the spinning solution and the degree of graphene oxidation. The hybrid fibres were sewable and weavable, and could be shaped into high-modulus helical springs.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Redox, Nitrogen, Carbon, Carbon nanotube, Graphene, Tensile strength, Spider silk


Peat bogs are primarily situated at mid to high latitudes and future climatic change projections indicate that these areas may become increasingly wetter and warmer. Methane emissions from peat bogs are reduced by symbiotic methane oxidizing bacteria (methanotrophs). Higher temperatures and increasing water levels will enhance methane production, but also methane oxidation. To unravel the temperature effect on methane and carbon cycling, a set of mesocosm experiments were executed, where intact peat cores containing actively growing Sphagnum were incubated at 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25°C. After two months of incubation, methane flux measurements indicated that, at increasing temperatures, methanotrophs are not able to fully compensate for the increasing methane production by methanogens. Net methane fluxes showed a strong temperature-dependence, with higher methane fluxes at higher temperatures. After removal of Sphagnum, methane fluxes were higher, increasing with increasing temperature. This indicates that the methanotrophs associated with Sphagnum plants play an important role in limiting the net methane flux from peat. Methanotrophs appear to consume almost all methane transported through diffusion between 5 and 15°C. Still, even though methane consumption increased with increasing temperature, the higher fluxes from the methane producing microbes could not be balanced by methanotrophic activity. The efficiency of the Sphagnum-methanotroph consortium as a filter for methane escape thus decreases with increasing temperature. Whereas 98% of the produced methane is retained at 5°C, this drops to approximately 50% at 25°C. This implies that warming at the mid to high latitudes may be enhanced through increased methane release from peat bogs.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Carbon dioxide, Bacteria, Redox, Carbon, Methane, Coal, Bog


ABSTRACT Shewanella oneidensis strain MR-1 is widely studied for its ability to respire a diverse array of soluble and insoluble electron acceptors. The ability to breathe insoluble substrates is defined as extracellular electron transfer and can occur via direct contact or by electron shuttling in S. oneidensis. To determine the contribution of flavin electron shuttles in extracellular electron transfer, a transposon mutagenesis screen was performed with S. oneidensis to identify mutants unable to secrete flavins. A multidrug and toxin efflux transporter encoded by SO_0702 was identified and renamed bfe (bacterial flavin adenine dinucleotide [FAD] exporter) based on phenotypic characterization. Deletion of bfe resulted in a severe decrease in extracellular flavins, while overexpression of bfe increased the concentration of extracellular flavins. Strains lacking bfe had no defect in reduction of soluble Fe(III), but these strains were deficient in the rate of insoluble Fe(III) oxide reduction, which was alleviated by the addition of exogenous flavins. To test a different insoluble electron acceptor, graphite electrode bioreactors were set up to measure current produced by wild-type S. oneidensis and the Δbfe mutant. With the same concentration of supplemented flavins, the two strains produced similar amounts of current. However, when exogenous flavins were not supplemented to bioreactors, bfe mutant strains produced significantly less current than the wild type. We have demonstrated that flavin electron shuttling accounts for ~75% of extracellular electron transfer to insoluble substrates by S. oneidensis and have identified the first FAD transporter in bacteria. IMPORTANCE Extracellular electron transfer by microbes is critical for the geochemical cycling of metals, bioremediation, and biocatalysis using electrodes. A controversy in the field was addressed by demonstrating that flavin electron shuttling, not direct electron transfer or nanowires, is the primary mechanism of extracellular electron transfer employed by the bacterium Shewanella oneidensis. We have identified a flavin adenine dinucleotide transporter conserved in all sequenced Shewanella species that facilitates export of flavin electron shuttles in S. oneidensis. Analysis of a strain that is unable to secrete flavins demonstrated that electron shuttling accounts for ~75% of the insoluble extracellular electron transfer capacity in S. oneidensis.

Concepts: Bacteria, Adenosine triphosphate, Redox, Electrochemistry, Adenine, Electron acceptor, FAD, Riboflavin