2019
July
Standard

Do bacteria use tungsten for protection from interstellar radiation?

Tungsten is a heavy metal with impressive properties: the white, shiny material doesn’t melt until the temperature is at 3422 °C and doesn’t boil until 5930 °C. It is resistant to almost all acids and has approximately the density of gold. It is also interesting that all its natural isotopes are theoretically unstable. Their half-lives, however, are on the order of trillions of years, so their decomposition is not measurable on our time scales.

Humans have used tungsten to construct light-bulb filaments for incandescent and fluorescent lights. In the carbon compound, tungsten carbide, it is almost as hard as diamond, which is why it is indispensable in tool manufacturing and design. But even microorganisms seem to know there’s something useful about this stuff. Some organisms, for example, thermophilic archaea and akaryote organisms, have adapted to the extreme conditions of tungsten environments and have found a way to assimilate tungsten. This has been studied in more detail by a team led by Tetyana Milojevic from the Chemistry department at the University of Vienna.

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