The bacteria Halomonas and the RMS Titanic

September 08, 2016

The rust-producing Halomonas species could bring about the total deterioration of the sunken RMS Titanic by 2030. How the halotolerant bacteria survive in their extreme environment was examined by Dieter Oesterhelt, Emeritus at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Martinsried near Munich, together with scientist of the Institut Laue-Langevin and the Institut de Biolgie Structurale in Grenoble, France as well as the biotech company Bitop. Halomonas microorganisms accumulate high concentrations of the molecule ectoine, within their cells, to counterbalance fluctuating external salt concentrations. For this analysis, a range of specialised neutron scattering experiments were designed. The scientist revealed that within the microbe cells, ectoine acts by enhancing the properties of water that are essential to life processes. Ectoine itself, displays an indirect stabilising effect on proteins and membranes within the cells.

The neutron reactor in Grenoble is the instrument with the world's highest neutron flux for research. In the foreground: models of molecules Ectoin and water. Their interaction changes the entire structure of water and stabilizes the surface of proteins and biological membranes.

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