The "world's toughest bacterium" seems to have superpowers that can survive even the deadly gamma radiation that comes from a nuclear explosion. An international group of scientists has published the results of a long study of a soil microorganism that can stand about a thousand times more Gamma rays than a human. Hi-tech spoke to Macromolecular Crystallographer Joanna Timmins: "One of the main focuses of the work in our group is the study of this bacteria called Deinoccocus radiodurans, which is extremely radiation resistant, and so we're trying to understand a little bit more how it has developed such properties, since nowhere on Earth are there such high doses of radiation that it can actually withstand." Was the radioresistant bacterium brought to Earth from Mars, as one theory suggests, or were its mechanisms developed on Earth as a side effect of drought or other distress? Its defense works on the molecular level. To see how this incredible jump between the worlds of physics and natural science works a traditional microscope will not do. Scientists use the European synchrotron, located in Grenoble, France, to discover the atomic structure of the bacterium's protein defense system. Synchrotrons produce thin beams of X-ray light using the energy emitted by electrons accelerated in a vacuum inside a circular magnetic field. The powerful X-ray beams are then "tailored" so their wavelengths can have the desired experimental characteristics, and the molecule hunt can ...

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