Effect of Deuterium Depeleted Water on Life

Hydrogen has several isotopes and one of them, deuterium, exists quite naturally in water to form D_{2}O. In previous experiments and several papers by Gilbert Lewis, it has been found that life is hindered in the presence of D_{2}O. While this may be true, my PI Steve Koch wondered if life had found a use for it because naturally occurring water has about a 17mM (millimolar) concentration of deuterium.

To put that number into perspective, when I do a typical polymerase chain reaction of DNA I add 10mM of each base of DNA (which is less than the amount of naturally occurring deuterium) to create millions of copies of a DNA template from an amount that is 1000x less then what the reaction yields. In fact most chemicals in most of my buffers on the order of the amount of naturally occurring deuterium.

So you can see it isn’t a stretch to think that nature has found a use for D_{2}O since it is quite abundant and life has been constantly evolving for billions of years. I want to test this hypothesis in a variety of different organisms:

  1. Tobacco Seeds – to act as a foil to Lewis’ experiments in which he grew tobacco seeds in pure D_{2}O.
  2. Mustard Seeds – from what I’m told mustard seeds are the powerhouse of the botanical genetics world much like Drosophila and S. cerevisiae are in their respective genetic fields.
  3. Escherichia coli – another molecular biological powerhouse that is very easy to grow and may be easy to see results with. We just got the facilities to be able to grow E. coli and damn it I want to use them!
  4. Saccharomyces cerevisiae (Yeast) – I know a guy who grows yeast for his experiments and I’m sure it wouldn’t be a stretch to get him to do so in deuterium depeleted water.

So the idea would be to try to grow these in regular water and in deuterium depleted water (no D_{2}O), and in the case of E. coli and yeast, perhaps in pure D_{2}O because I don’t think those experiments have been carried out yet. Hopefully I will be able to conclusively state whether or not life has developed a need/use forĀ D_{2}O which would be a very interesting discovery indeed!

  • Steve Koch

    I think you do a great job of putting the 17 mM into perspective. One important note is that the idea of deuterium being essential for life was Gilbert Lewis’ idea in 1934. I haven’t been able to determine why he didn’t pursue the question or, perhaps, why he did pursue it but didn’t publish failures.