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Researchers Discover How Sand 'Hold Its Breath' and Its Use in Biofuels

Nov 30, 2016 09:45 AM EST
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An international team from Monash University in Australia has discovered how sand "holds its breath." The researchers revealed how diatoms in the sand survive in different environmental conditions, revealing its potential use in the biofuel industry.
(Photo : Marianna Massey/Getty Images)

An international team from Monash University in Australia has discovered how sand "holds its breath." The researchers revealed how diatoms in the sand survive in different environmental conditions, revealing its potential use in the biofuel industry.

According to the study entitled "Metabolism in anoxic permeable sediments is dominated by eukaryotic dark fermentation" published in the journal Nature Geoscience, sand contains a lot of diatoms or algae that can be exposed to the sun for a minute then buried the next.

Because of this, Professory Perran Cook and Michael Bourke, lead authors of the study, wanted to know how these diatoms survive in harsh environmental situations.

"This is a new mechanism by which this type of algae survive under these conditions. Our work has found that they ferment, like yeast ferments sugar to alcohol," said Cook via Science Daily. "In this case, the products are hydrogen and 'fats', for example, oleate, which is a component of olive oil," said Cook via Science Daily.

The researchers conducted the study by applying a combination of microbiological approaches and flow-through experiments. They noted that algae in the sand are important food sources in many food webs and it's vital to know the importance of "anoxic micro-algal metabolism through fermentation in permeable sediments."

By using the abovementioned processes, the researchers pinpointed the major factors that contributed on how algae, despite harsh conditions, produce carbon in the sand. Results showed that algae produce carbon via micro-algal dark fermentation.

"The finding that hydrogen is a by-product of this metabolism has important implications for the types of bacteria present in the sediment. It is well known that bacteria in the sediment can 'eat' hydrogen, however, these hydrogen eating bacteria may be more common than we previously thought," said Cook.

Read More:
Marine Microalgae: Food and Fuel of the Future
LOOK: The Great Barrier Reef and Its Annual Mating Festival
Zombie Corals: Ghost Town of Dead Corals in the Pacific is Coming Back to Life

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