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An early route to oxygen

A previously unknown pathway producing oxygen during anaerobic methane oxidation linked to nitrite and nitrate reduction has been found in microbes isolated from freshwater sediments in Dutch drainage ditches. The complete genome of the bacterium responsible for this reaction has been assembled, and found to contain genes for aerobic methane oxidation. The bacterium reduces nitrite via the recombination of two molecules of nitric oxide into nitrogen and oxygen, bypassing the familiar denitrification intermediate nitrous oxide. This discovery is relevant to nitrogen and methane cycling in the environment and, since nitrogen oxides arose early on Earth, raises the possibility that oxygen was available to microbes before the advent of oxygen-producing photosynthesis.[Article p. 543; News & Views p. 500]

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