Scientists have discovered an unusual symbiosis between tiny single-celled algae and highly specialized bacteria in the ocean. The partnership plays an important role in fertilizing the oceans by taking nitrogen from the atmosphere and "fixing" it into a form that other organisms can use. Details of the finding, published in a recent issue of the journal Science, emerged from the investigation of a mysterious nitrogen-fixing microbe that has a very small genome. First detected in 1998 by Jonathan Zehr, a marine scientist at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), the microbe now appears to be the most widespread nitrogen-fixing organism in the oceans. It belongs to a group of photosynthetic bacteria known as cyanobacteria, but it lacks the genes needed to carry out photosynthesis.
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