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Methods Enzymol. 2011;486:483-506. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-381294-0.00022-5.

The geochemical record of the ancient nitrogen cycle, nitrogen isotopes, and metal cofactors.

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Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA.


The nitrogen (N) cycle is the only global biogeochemical cycle that is driven by biological functions involving the interaction of many microorganisms. The N cycle has evolved over geological time and its interaction with the oxygen cycle has had profound effects on the evolution and timing of Earth's atmosphere oxygenation (Falkowski and Godfrey, 2008). Almost every enzyme that microorganisms use to manipulate N contains redox-sensitive metals. Bioavailability of these metals has changed through time as a function of varying redox conditions, and likely influenced the biological underpinnings of the N cycle. It is possible to construct a record through geological time using N isotopes and metal concentrations in sediments to determine when the different stages of the N cycle evolved and the role metal availability played in the development of key enzymes. The same techniques are applicable to understanding the operation and changes in the N cycle through geological time. However, N and many of the redox-sensitive metals in some of their oxidation states are mobile and the isotopic composition or distribution can be altered by subsequent processes leading to erroneous conclusions. This chapter reviews the enzymology and metal cofactors of the N cycle and describes proper utilization of methods used to reconstruct evolution of the N cycle through time.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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