WASHINGTON – Scientists have found the world’s largest bacterium in the Caribbean mangrove swamp.
Most bacteria are microscopic, but this one is so large that it can be seen with the naked eye.
The thin white thread, about the size of a human lash, is “arguably the largest bacterium known to date,” said Jean-Marie Volland, a marine biologist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and co-author of an article announcing the discovery. Thursday in the journal Science.
Olivier Gross, a co-author and biologist at the University of West Indies and Guyana in France, found the first example of this bacterium in the archipelago of Guadeloupe, called Thiomargarita magnifica, or “the perfect sulfur pearl.” 2009
However, he did not immediately realize it was a bacterium due to its surprisingly large size, a little over a third of an inch (0.9 centimeters) in length. Only later did genetic analysis show that the organism is a single bacterial cell.
“It’s a wonderful discovery,” said Petra Levin, a microbiologist at the University of Washington in St. Louis who was not involved in the study. “This raises the question of how many of these giant bacteria are there, and reminds us that we should never underestimate the bacteria.
Gross also found a bacterium attached to oyster shells, rocks and glass bottles in the swamp.
Scientists have not yet been able to grow it in a laboratory culture, but the researchers say the cell structure is unusual for bacteria. One key difference is that it has a large central compartment or vacuole that allows some cellular functions to take place in that controlled environment rather than the entire cell.
“Acquiring this large central vacuole will definitely help the cell bypass physical limitations … because of what the cell could be like,” said Manuel Campos, a biologist at the French National Research Center who was not involved in the study. .
The researchers said they were not sure why the bacterium was so large, but co-author Volland hypothesized it could be an adaptation to help prevent smaller organisms from eating.
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