World’s largest bacterium found in Caribbean mangrove

Gigantic bacteria 50 times larger than any bacterial species previously known to science have been discovered in a Caribbean mangrove, a discovery that will spur new scientific ideas about the size and structure of living cells.

The filaments, which look like fine vermicelli and have individual cells up to 1 cm long, have been called Thiomargarita magnifica. The discovery was led by researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California and the University of the West Indies in Guadeloupe.

You’re gorgeous grows well beyond the maximum bacteria size predicted by current theory, said Jean-Marie Volland, lead author of a paper describing the new bacteria in the journal Science.

“It’s 5,000 times larger than most bacteria,” Volland said. “To put it in context, it would be like a human meeting another human as big as Mount Everest. . . This is the first time we have had the ability to manipulate individual bacteria with tweezers. »

All You’re gorgeous specimens have so far not been infected with smaller microbes. Genetic analysis suggests that the species manufactures a range of antimicrobial compounds, which could be a useful source of antibiotics in the future.

Bacteria are by far the most numerous and diverse form of life on Earth. The total number of bacterial species is unknown, with the vast majority yet to be scientifically described. Almost all are only visible under a microscope.

Olivier Gros, professor of marine biology in Guadeloupe, first spotted You’re gorgeous like white threads sprouting from submerged leaves in a sulphurous mangrove. Genetic analysis in his laboratory revealed their identity as a new giant species within the known bacterial genus Thiomargarita.

T magnifica bacteria seen next to a penny coin. Almost all other bacterial species are only visible under a microscope © Tomas Tyml

“I didn’t think it was bacteria because they were so big,” said Silvina Gonzalez-Rizzo, a molecular biologist at the University of the West Indies.

You’re gorgeous uses sulphides from water as an energy source. With this metabolism, the bacteria could not infect humans or other animals.

The size of conventional bacteria is limited by the need for all the chemical compounds necessary for life to move efficiently and quickly through their cells. You’re gorgeous overcame this limitation by developing an internal structure that duplicates many biochemical functions in a single cellular filament.

Researchers are still in the early stages of the investigation You’re gorgeous. Knowing how to grow the bacteria in the lab would be an important step forward. It would be the same for the discovery of other giant bacteria developing under different conditions. “The discovery of You’re gorgeous suggests that larger, more complex bacteria may be hiding in plain sight,” their scientific paper said.

Petra Levin, a professor of microbiology at Washington University in St Louis, who was not involved in the research, called the finding astonishing. “Bacteria are infinitely adaptable and always surprising – and should never be underestimated,” she said.

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