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Use Marine Strontium for nitrogen fixation

Strontium catalysis of marine nitrogen fixation, to supplement iron-based nitrogen fixation
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Vast oceanic areas are biotically unproductive, despite being sunlit, and replete with most nutrients, because the low levels of trace iron limit nitrogen fixation there, which is key to plankton growth when and where all else is present, as in these areas.

Iron, in even trace amounts, acts as a co-factor for marine cyanobacteria's nitrogenase, which fixes dissolved atmopheric dinitrogen, making it accessible to plankton, which can then grow and sequester dissolved atmospheric carbon dioxide. This reduces atmospheric CO2, ameliorating the greenhouse effect.

Supplementing iron is possible, but must be continually done, as most iron soon forms precipitates which settle out of the sunit surface areas.

Proposal: Step 1) Design a nitrogenase which uses strontium as a co-factor, instead of iron. Strontium is rare in seawater, but more concentrated than iron in these specific oceanic areas. Check that the new nitrogenase can be eaten safely by sealife.

Step 2) put the DNA sequence coding for the new nitrogenase into marine cyanobacteria, and release them into these areas of the oceans, to thrive.

Goal: Vastly increase marine photosynthesis especially in those relatively unproductive oceanic areas. In this way reverse the ongoing increase in Earth's atmospheric CO2, and thus stabilize the global climate.

Beneficial side effect: increase deep ocean fisheries, like tuna. Expand the amount of sunlight energy entering the biosphere, increasing life on earth.

briancady413, Feb 17 2011

Arsenic substituting for phosphorus http://www.astrobio...-the-periodic-table
[bungston, Feb 17 2011]

Johnny Alpha http://en.wikipedia..._Alpha#Johnny_Alpha
Strontium Dog [DrBob, Feb 18 2011]

Vanadium http://pubs.acs.org.../80th/vanadium.html
" V is the second most abundant transition-metal ion in surface seawater after molybdenum" [bungston, Feb 18 2011]

Designing Strontium Binding Proteins http://www.ncbi.nlm...gov/pubmed/15473703
[briancady413, Feb 27 2011]

Flame test http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flame_test
Metal is pretty. [bungston, Mar 04 2011]

Iron enrichment http://www.sciencem...5/5812/612.abstract
[bungston, Jan 10 2014]


       The account has been around since '03 - probably not [beanangel].
normzone, Feb 17 2011

       I think it would not work. Strontium can sub in for calcium in biologic systems, which is why strontium generated in the nuclear tests accumulated in peoples bones. Strontium is in the same column of the periodic table as calcium. Linked is another instance: arsenic substituing for phosphorus, which was in the news recently.   

       For something like this to work you would need to sub in something which was plausibly close to iron in the period table, I think.   

       That said I like the idea of tinkering with nitrogenase. I think nitrogenases are very highly conserved, but this may be because screwing with them is lethal. It might be possible to engineer a nitrogenase using a different metal which was better than naturally occurring ones.
bungston, Feb 17 2011

       If we don't like how increased levels of nitrogenous compounds are impacting ocean life the simplest thing to do would be to control their ingress into the watershed. It is a waste of energy and damages natural ecosystems and valued resources. As to the factors involved in Red Tide type events it is clear that cyanobactor are relatively uncompetitive in areas of undisturbed ocean. If we reduce the levels of human sourced digestables in effluent waters the problem will largely disappear. In areas where population growth and industrialization cause this to be impractical seeding with iron is simply cheaper and more efficient than trying to propagate a new and (hypothetically) dramatically more aggressive species that utilizes a novel enzyme the implications of which are unforeseeable. Given natures ingenuity if such an enzyme/niche were "easy" it would already be "done". More likely than not the redox activity of strontium peroxide/dioxide puts it outside the biological pail so to speak.
WcW, Feb 17 2011

       large areas of open ocean that are currently low in any nutrients cannot be made fertile by nitrogen fixation and photosynthesis. It takes more than nitrogenous compounds to make a cell. The low fertility open ocean water has almost nothing it it due to the natural diffusion of nutrients and the tendency for organisms to sink when they die. Your premise is that these areas would be fertile if we sprinkled them with iron? I don't see any basis for this.
WcW, Feb 17 2011

       Coastal zones: Excessively aggressive microbial growth: Anerobic conditions=dead zones.   

       Open ocean: Nutrients are diffuse. Occasional pockets of fertility can exist briefly but cannot be sustained due to diffusion and the tendency of plankton to aggregate nutrients, die, and drag them to the bottom of the ocean. A massive bloom of any organism in the open ocean would be brief and leave a wasteland devoid of any nutrition.   

       This flaw lies at the heart of every "make the oceans more productive" idea. The productivity of the open ocean is limited by gravity.
WcW, Feb 17 2011

       it can. many organisms have the potential to 1)explode briefly, 2)in the open ocean, 3)when conditions are right.
WcW, Feb 17 2011

       without vulcanism a water world is a dead world.
WcW, Feb 17 2011

       //it can many organisms have the potential to explode briefly in the open ocean when conditions are right.//   

MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 17 2011

       //without vulcanism a water world is a dead world.//   

       I think you're confusing two things. Leonard Nimoy wasn't in that film - it was Kevin Costner.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 17 2011

       there are a lot of ways to fix atmospheric nitrogen. notably it can be done using compounds that contain molybdenum, but no iron. The biological process is very well refined and appears to waste very little energy. This, in a way, explains why there is a lack of Fe in barren ocean water: organisms snatched it all up so they could make energy efficient tools. Given the low actual concentration of strontium in ocean water it is easy to imagine a scenario where a new population of organisms appeared, snapped up all the strontium, dragged it to the bottom and mineralized it in a brief but joyous metabolism. On the other hand the conditions for that sort of explosive boom and bust are exploited in almost every ecosystem, even in veins of mineral ore deep in the earth and volcanic vents. It has happened in the past, likely many many times. On the other hand, suggesting that such an undiscovered niche exists in the natural environment (so excluding 2-4-D resistant corn for example) and developing the organism to exploit currently exceeds our capabilities.   

       In this case, it exceeds our ability to even see what will happen as a direct consequence of our actions. Any organism living in the open ocean will need a constant re-supply of the nutrients that make up its carcass. This is the absolute limiting factor to ocean fertility.
WcW, Feb 17 2011

       @ MB   

       The way the anno box ignores line breaks often trips me up. If I use line breaks as a form of punctuation, and they don't show up, it looks like I just puked the words out in a stream (which is likely the case).
WcW, Feb 18 2011

       I was wondering if nitrogenases use molybdenum because it is available. I was looking at the periodic table. The ones under iron are weird; most are weird. Vanadium maybe not so weird; I know sea squirts accumulate it. Could the fact that it is available mean it could be used for a nitrogenase? Sure enough there are nitrogenases that use vanadium (link).
bungston, Feb 18 2011

       Of course, vanadium substitutes for the molybdenum in nitrogenase, as [bungston] said. The iron is still needed.
spidermother, Feb 19 2011

       // Air-drop little iron floaty spheres ? //   

       Brilliant! Deserves it's own page at the halfbakery! these could be nano-sized spherical shells, for better dispersion. Problem: energy costs of manufacture, plus financial costs.
briancady413, Mar 02 2011

       Make plastic products doped with iron. When they end up in the trash gyre and slowly break down, they release iron gradually.
GutPunchLullabies, Mar 02 2011

       //Make plastic products doped with iron//   

       Brilliant! Right up there with putting some iron in transoceanic jet fuel.
briancady413, Mar 04 2011

       /Air-drop little iron floaty spheres ? /   

       It seems so pointless to schlep a whole plane out and back, spurting out CO2 all the way. Sort of defeats the whole global warming purpose! Really, it would be more efficient to shoot the iron into the open ocean using shore based solar powered railguns. Solar is perfect for railguns - slowly charge the capacitor during the day, then at sundown let fly the iron! Plus it would be pretty for people under the flight path of the iron - shooting stars every evening.   

       Thinking further, one could dope the spheres with various metal coatings to alter the color of their coronas in flight. Linked is the wikipedia page on flame tests to help the synthetic shooting star aesthetes pick their color palates.
bungston, Mar 04 2011

       as i pointed out previously this is the barren ocean, the problem isn't getting the bloom to happen, the problem is that the fertility of the water cannot sustain a permanent population.
WcW, Mar 04 2011

       What form of Iron is most useful to the little beasties?   

       If FE2O3 is okay, just get a couple iron ore carrier ships to be your delivery system. 250, 000 Tonnes of relatively high purity Iron oxide a pop for a cape sized vessel. Some kind of saltwater mixer/wet grinder/sprayer should be able to do the disbursement nicely.   

       Perhaps particularly finely ground ore would not settle out anywhere near as quickly and remain in the bio-zone long enough to be utilised.
Custardguts, Jan 09 2014

       Iron doped styrofoam! It is so obvious!
bungston, Jan 09 2014

       In the Early Earth, before it had an oxygen atmosphere, iron in the oceans had a particular "valence" that was quite soluble in water (+2). After oxygen waste from blue-green life-forms began affecting everything, it began affecting the iron ions dissolved in the waters of the world. Its valence changed (to +3), much less soluble in water, and it basically precipitated out, leaving huge deposits of iron oxide all over the world (like the Mesabi Range).   

       So, what we need is a way to get iron to do the EQUIVALENT of being dissolved in water, even while having a +3 valence. That's because if it has a +2 valence, oxygen will affect it (so, if you start with nice soluble iron(II) sulfate, you end up with iron(III) oxide and iron(III) sulfate, neither very soluble.   

       The answer may be to design a molecule that includes iron but is "polar" (highly soluble in water). In doing a bit of research to write this anno, I came across one place where they said that certain "iron complexes" were very soluble. However, it is obvious to me that the more "complex" the molecule, the more expensive it would be to make! And of course we do want to be able to dump lots of this stuff into the oceans, to encourage sea life.   

       Obviously we also want this molecule to be nontoxic so that microorganisms in the water can extract the iron from it, without being poisoned in the process.   

       Unfortunately, just because one might happen to think of a reasonable possibility, that doesn't mean you can find a lot of useful data about it. For example, I just wasted maybe an hour trying to find out if FeOCl (iron oxychloride, sometimes also called iron chloride oxide or iron oxide chloride) is decently soluble in water. No luck. Ah, well.
Vernon, Jan 10 2014

       //as i pointed out previously this is the barren ocean, the problem isn't getting the bloom to happen, the problem is that the fertility of the water cannot sustain a permanent population.//   

       If iron is the limiting factor then adding iron will cause an increase in primary productivity while it is retained. In fact I'm pretty sure this has been tried experimentally, and did so.   

       If the organisms do die and sink to the seabed then this is a great way of sequestering carbon. If they're eaten by progressively larger creatures then it is instead a great way of increasing productivity of the area for environmentally friendly fisheries.
I suspect that you could probably sway the result one way or the other by the regimen of the treatment.
Loris, Jan 10 2014

       Iron(III) nitrate is highly soluble; unfortunately, the iron would precipitate out anyway as iron chloride, sulphate etc., leaving the nitrate ions in solution. Chelated (e.g. ETDA) iron is presumably what is meant by an "iron complexes"; that's the obvious, but expensive, solution.   

       Which leaves us with burning all the coal, oil, and forests until the iron is reduced and stays in solution, and allowing vast amounts of topsoil and agricultural runoff to reach the sea, supplying the other nutrients. So, we're right on track.
spidermother, Jan 10 2014

       There is plenty of precedent for encouraging plankton by pouring iron into the ocean. I linked a link that I found on my idea "Bomb the Ocean Floor". I got that idea from the Superfriends, in which Aquaman reverses red tide by dragging a rock along the ocean floor, stirring up nutrient rich clouds. I always thought that probably one pass would be inadequate to get enough nutrition up where it was needed. Big bombs would work better - the hot plume of detritus would fertilize everything!
bungston, Jan 10 2014


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