Scientists have discovered the largest bacterium in the world, the size of an eyelash

Scientists have discovered the largest known bacterium in the world in the swamp in Guadeloupe, which comes in the form of white filaments the size of human eyelashes.

About 1 cm long, strange organism, Thiomargarita magnifica, is approximately 50 times larger than all other known giant bacteria and is the first visible to the naked eye. Thin white threads were discovered on the surfaces of decaying mangrove leaves in shallow tropical sea swamps.

The discovery was a surprise because, according to models of cellular metabolism, bacteria simply should not grow so large. Earlier, scientists proposed an upper possible limit of about 100 times smaller than the new species.

“To put it in context, it would be like meeting a man as tall as Mount Everest,” said Jean-Marie Woland, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who co-authored the study.

Thiomargarita magnifica was found to contain three times more genes than most other bacteria. Photo: Vollard et al.

The organism was discovered by Olivier Gross, a professor of marine biology at the University of the Antilles in Guadeloupe, while searching for symbiotic bacteria in the mangrove ecosystem.

“When I saw them, I thought: weird,” Gross said. The laboratory first performed microscopic analyzes to determine that the strands were single cells. A closer inspection also revealed a strange internal structure. In most bacteria, DNA floats freely inside the cell. Thiomargarita magnifica it seems to keep its DNA more organized within the membrane-bound compartments throughout the cell. “And this is very unexpected for the bacteria,” Walland said.

The bacterium was also found to contain three times more genes than most bacteria and hundreds of thousands of copies of the genome spread across each cell, making it unusually complex.

Scientists are not yet sure how bacteria evolved to be so large. One possibility is to adapt to avoid robbery. “If you grow hundreds or thousands of times bigger than your predator, your predator can’t eat you,” Walland said.

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However, becoming large would mean losing some of the traditional benefits of bacteria, including the unique ability to move and colonize new niches. “By leaving the microscopic world, these bacteria have definitely changed the way they communicate with their environment,” Walland said.

The bacteria have not yet been found in other locations – and disappeared from their original location when the researchers recently returned, perhaps because they are seasonal organisms. But in a paper published in the journal Science, the authors conclude that the discovery “suggests that larger and more complex bacteria may be in sight.”

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