The largest bacteria in the world discovered in Guadeloupe


Scientists say they’ve discovered the world’s largest variety in the mangroves of Guadeloupe – and it puts its peers to shame.

Measuring up to two centimeters (three quarters of an inch), ‘Thiomargarita magnifica’ is not only about 5,000 times larger than most bacteria, it has a more complex structure, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Science.

The discovery “shakes up a lot of knowledge” in microbiology, Olivier Gros, professor of biology at the University of the West Indies and co-author of the study, told TSWT.

In his laboratory in Pointe-à-Pitre, a Caribbean island city, he marveled at a test tube containing wisps resembling white eyelashes.

“At first I thought it was anything but a bacteria because something two centimeters (in size) just couldn’t be one,” he said.

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The researcher first spotted the strange filaments in a patch of sulfur-rich mangrove sediment in 2009.

Techniques such as electron microscopy revealed that it was a bacterial organism, but there was no guarantee that it was a single cell.

“As High as Everest”

Molecular biologist Silvina Gonzalez-Rizzo, from the same lab, discovered that it belongs to the Thiomargarita family, a bacterial genus known to use sulfides to grow. And a researcher in Paris suggested that it was indeed a single cell.

But a first attempt at publication in a scientific journal a few years later failed.

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“We were told, ‘It’s interesting, but we lack the information to believe you,'” Gros said, adding that they needed stronger footage to provide evidence.

Then a young researcher, Jean-Marie Volland, succeeded in studying the bacterium with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, directed by the University of California.

With financial support and access to some of the best tools in the field, Volland and his colleagues began to get a feel for the colossal bacterium.

It was clearly huge by bacterial standards — on the scale of human proportions, it would be like meeting someone “as tall as Mount Everest,” Volland said.

Specialized 3D microscope images eventually proved that the entire filament was indeed a single cell.

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But they also helped Volland make a “completely unexpected” discovery.

Normally, the TSWT of a bacterium floats freely in the cell. But in the giant species, it is compacted into small structures surrounded by a membrane, he explained.

This TSWT compartmentalization is “normally a feature of human, animal and plant cells, complex organisms…but not bacteria,” Volland said.

Future research will need to determine if these features are unique to Thiomargarita magnifica, or if they can be found in other species of bacteria, Gros said.

The largest bacterium in the world discovered in Guadeloupe appeared first on TSWT.


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