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Weird Microbe Turns Pee into Rocket Fuel !

The anammox bacterium can create rocket fuel from ammonia -- a chemical found in urine.
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Scientists on Sunday said they had gained insights into a remarkable bacterium that lives without oxygen and transforms ammonium, the ingredient of urine, into hydrazine, a rocket fuel. So-called anammox -- for anaerobic ammonium oxidation -- germs caused a sensation when they were first identified in the 1990s, but uncovering their secrets is taking time.
In a letter published by the British science journal Nature, researchers at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands reported they had identified the molecular mechanism by which the bugs do their fuel-trick.

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"Proving this was quite a feat," said Mike Jetten, professor of microbiology at the university's Institute for Water and Wetland Research.
"We had to deploy a range of new experimental methods. In the end, we managed to isolate the protein complex responsible for hydrazine production, a beautifully red mixture.
" The team's work initially piqued NASA's interest, but this faded when the US space agency learned that only small quantities of precious hydrazine are produced, "nothing like enough to get a rocket to Mars," said Jetten.

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"Now we are accurately determining the crystal structure of the protein complex.
Perhaps we can improve the production process if we have a better understanding of how the protein complex fits together."
Anammox is now used commercially in water purification because it is so energy-efficient in breaking down ammonia.
It also has potential applications as a biofuel, cleaning up sewerage sludge without the need for pumps to provide air, and providing methane in return.

Content provided by : AFP

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