News and events
Anammox bacteria and rocket fuel ?!
Researchers at the Radboud University Nijmegen, including Darwin researchers Wouter Maalcke, Huub op den Camp, Jan Keltjens, Mike Jetten (on picture) and Marc Strous, have identiefied a molecular mechanism by which anammox bacteria transforms ammonium, the ingredient of urine, into hydrazine, a rocket fuel. The group published their fascinating new results on Anammox in Nature.
Their results were directly picked up by many international news sites, including National Geographic (link to website) and Discovery news (link to website).
In the new work the researchers demonstrate that microbes turn ammonium into dinitrogen anaerobically through a pathway that involves the intermediates nitric oxide and hydrazine. To pin down the reaction sequence, the group worked with the bacterium Kuenenia stuttgartiensis. They grew the microbe in a bioreactor and studied which genes the microbe transcribed, which enzymes it made, and the activity of those enzymes.
Of course NASA was initially very interested in these new results. However, quantities of 'rocket fuel' produced in the process are by far not enough to get a rocket to Mars.

Molecular mechanism of anaerobic ammonium oxidation
Boran Kartal, Wouter J. Maalcke, Naomi M. de Almeida, Irina Cirpus, Jolein Gloerich, Wim Geerts, Huub J. M. Op den Camp, Harry R. Harhangi, Eva M. Janssen-Megens, Kees-Jan Francoijs, Hendrik G. Stunnenberg, Jan T. Keltjens, Mike S. M. Jetten
& Marc Strous - online 2 October 2011 - doi:10.1038/nature10453