World-first scientific discovery uncovered at a Melbourne beach

November 28, 2016
Sand from Middle Park beach, in Melbourne, is at the center of a world-first scientific discovery. Credit: Monash University

The popular Middle Park beach is under the international spotlight following a world-first study by Monash University chemists who have discovered how sand 'holds its breath'.

The discovery, published in Nature Geoscience, has astonishing implications and potential uses in the biofuels industry, according to lead authors Associate Professor Perran Cook and PhD student Michael Bourke from the Water Studies Centre, School of Chemistry.

Sand is full of algae called diatoms, but this environment is mixed about continuously so these organisms might get light one minute then be buried in the sediment with no oxygen the next.

"This is a new mechanism by which this type of algae survive under these conditions," said Associate Professor Cook.

"Our work has found that they ferment, like yeast ferments sugar to alcohol.

"In this case, the products are hydrogen and 'fats', for example, oleate, which is a component of olive oil."

Sand often has high concentrations of algae, which are highly productive and an important food source for food webs in the bay.

It is important to understand how these organisms survive in the harsh environment in which they live.

In this work, scientists present the first study of the importance of anoxic micro-algal metabolism through fermentation in permeable sediments.

They combined flow-through reactor experiments with microbiological approaches to determine the dominant contributors and pathways of dissolved inorganic carbon production in permeable sediments.

They show that micro-algal dark fermentation is the dominant metabolic pathway, which is the first time this has been documented in an environmental setting.

"The finding that hydrogen is a by-product of this metabolism has important implications for the types of bacteria present in the sediment," said Associate Professor Cook.

"It is well known that bacteria in the sediment can 'eat' hydrogen, however, these eating bacteria may be more common than we previously thought."

Explore further: Harnessing algae for the creation of clean energy

More information: Metabolism in anoxic permeable sediments is dominated by eukaryotic dark fermentation, Nature Geoscience, nature.com/articles/doi:10.1038/ngeo2843

Related Stories

Harnessing algae for the creation of clean energy

October 6, 2016

Researchers at Tel Aviv University have revealed how microalgae produce hydrogen, a clean fuel of the future, and suggest a possible mechanism to jumpstart mass production of this environmentally-friendly energy source. Their ...

New Possibilities for Hydrogen-Producing Algae

March 30, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Photosynthesis produces the food that we eat and the oxygen that we breathe ― could it also help satisfy our future energy needs by producing clean-burning hydrogen? Researchers studying a hydrogen-producing, ...

New possibilities for hydrogen-producing algae

March 24, 2009

Photosynthesis produces the food that we eat and the oxygen that we breathe ― could it also help satisfy our future energy needs by producing clean-burning hydrogen? Researchers studying a hydrogen-producing, single-celled ...

Biofuels from algae: A budding technology yet to become viable

February 29, 2016

Despite high expectations and extensive research and investment in the last decade, technological options are still in developing stages and key resources for algal growth are still too onerous for economically viable production ...

Recommended for you

Scientists examine bacterium found 1,000 feet underground

December 8, 2016

Pioneering work being carried out in a cave in New Mexico by researchers at McMaster University and The University of Akron, Ohio, is changing the understanding of how antibiotic resistance may have emerged and how doctors ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.