Microbes in the News

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BROWSE what our other readers have to say. Here are some topics of recent letters:

Are prions alive?

Submitted by Wondering in Wyoming on 6/6/95.

A few weeks ago on the TV show, the X-Files, a bizarre cult ate human stew as part of their religious ceremony. Some of the cult members became sick with Cruetzfeld-Jacob syndrome, which I have heard is caused by prions. But aren't prions made of protein with no nucleic acids? I thought all living things required DNA or RNA. So if they don't have RNA or DNA, can prions be alive?

Microbes store data

Submitted by a reader on 5/1/95.

I found an interesting story in the "Financial Times":

"One of the exotic technologies that could replace magnetic storage is a swamp bacterium called Halobacterium found in the brackish lagoons around San Francisco Bay. Laser beams focused on the photosenitive protein in Halobacterium could create a fast, matchbox-sized optical storage device that could store 480 gigabytes, which is more than 1,000 times larger than today's typical PC hard disk drive. Early practical demonstrations of the technology might appear by about the year 2000." ("Microbes Store Digital Data," Financial Times, 4/20/95, p.12)

Editor's response: About Halobacterium

This response submitted by Cathy McGowan on 5/1/95.

The bacteria that this article mentions are Halobacteria. These bacteria live in salty water, such as the Great Salt Lake in Utah, and solar evaporation ponds -- like those found near San Francisco. These Halobacteria contain purple pigments called "Bacteriorhodopsin" and "retinal" which give salt ponds their pinkish color. In the presence of sunlight, bacteriorhodopsin and retinal move protons out of the cell. This in turn creates a "proton gradient," in which there are more protons outside the cell than inside. When protons move back into the cell through a proton channel, ATP, the energy currency for the cell, is produced.

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