updated: 1 one hour ago Posted: 1 one hour ago
Scientists have discovered the world’s largest bacteria in a Caribbean mangrove swamp.
Most bacteria are microscopic, but these bacteria are too large to be seen with the naked eye.
The thin white filaments, about the size of a human eye’s eyelash, are “the largest bacteria known to date,” said Jean-Marie Foland, a marine biologist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and co-author of a paper announcing the discovery. Thursday in Science magazine.
Olivier Gros, a co-author and biologist at the University of the West Indies and French Guiana, found the first example of this bacterium — called Thiomargarita magnifica, or “brilliant sulfur pearl” — clinging to sunken mangrove leaves in the Guadeloupe archipelago in 2009.
But he didn’t immediately know it was a bacterium because of its surprisingly large size – these bacteria are, on average, up to a third of an inch (0.9 cm) long. Only later genetic analysis revealed that the organism was a single bacterial cell.
“It’s an amazing discovery,” said Petra Levine, a microbiologist at Washington University in St. Louis, who was not involved in the study. “It opens up the question of how many of these giant bacteria are out there — and reminds us that bacteria should never be underestimated.”
Gross also found bacteria associated with oyster shells, rocks, and glass bottles in the swamp.
Scientists have not yet been able to grow it in a lab culture, but the researchers say the cell has an unusual structure for bacteria. One major difference: It has a large central compartment, or vacuole, that allows some cell functions to occur in that controlled environment rather than throughout the cell.
“Having such a large central gap definitely helps the cell to bypass the physical limitations … regarding cell size,” said Manuel Campos, a biologist at the French National Center for Scientific Research, who was not involved in the study. .
The researchers said they weren’t sure why the bacteria were so huge, but co-author Voland hypothesized that it might be an adaptation to help it avoid being eaten by smaller organisms.
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