Bakterie są jednak od zarania dziejów malutkie (fot. Shutterstock/Konstantin Kolosov)

A bacteria unlike any other has been discovered in the mangrove forests of the Caribbean. And you can see it not only with the naked eye, but you can literally take a single cell in your fingers.

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The saying goes that a big person can do more. However, bacteria have been very small since the dawn of history, and yet they function so well, they achieve evolutionary success that mammals, for example, would envy. Anyway, all vertebrates were grouped together as well.

The biological diversity of bacteria is gigantic and unparalleled in the world of living organisms. However, almost all of them look like small balls, sometimes sticks about 2 micrometers long.

This is because of the simple relationship we learned in elementary school mathematics: the volume of a sphere increases with the cube of its radius, and the area only increases with the square. Thus, the larger the cell, the more difficult it is to satisfy the needs of the interior through the current exchange surface with the external environment.

Non-bacterial cells – that is, equipped with a cell nucleus, the so-called eukaryotic cells – this problem is solved and sometimes they are 5-10 times larger than bacterial cells. Maternal development over time provided them with a system of internal membranes, the so-called endoplasmic reticulum, which in fact increases the external and internal exchange surface.

Giant bacteria occur. More than 20 years ago, what appears to be the largest of them – Thiomargerita namibiensis, was discovered in Africa. It is visible to the naked eye (that is, by definition, it is difficult to classify it as a microorganism), because it can have a diameter of up to 750 micrometers, that is, let’s say almost a millimeter.

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It adapts in this way – and has a very interesting metabolism, quite different from ours, because it “feeds” on sulfur – that almost the entire interior of the cell is filled with a giant encapsulated vesicle filled with water and nitrate, while the cytoplasm and other structures necessary for life in the form of a thin membrane lie between This is the follicle and the cell membrane.

Today, scientists from many American scientific institutions, especially the University of California at San Francisco and the Laboratory for Research in Complex Systems in Menlo Park, California, under the direction of Shailesh V Date, have discovered and described bacteria with an average size of 9,000 micrometers. Long, almost one centimeter! Initially, it was named (because the microbiological nomenclature was approved by the relevant committees of international scientific societies) Thiomargarita magnifica.

It can be seen that it has much in common with the “Pearl of Namibia”. For example, it has a huge water bubble occupying 73%. Its overall size and, as evidenced by its genome, a common ancestor that allows both gigabyte bacteria to belong to the same genus, although at first glance they are not very similar. How to be a ball of string.

The largest cell that scientists found in T. magnifica was 2cm high, but if it wasn’t crushed, eaten, pushed away by wind, or swept away by waves, it could grow even larger.

The scientists used fluorescence, X-rays and electron microscopy along with genome sequencing to describe the new giant bacterium with a magnitude of three larger than the average bacterium. These overgrown bacteria are larger than fruit flies and nematodes, which are common laboratory organisms.

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If volume alone isn’t reason enough to talk about it on the front pages of serious science journals (so far we’ve got the article hanging on a prepress server, but it’s already been covered by the prestigious “science” portal, so the article has been submitted for review and printing, hey!) giant The newfound has a lot of hidden power.

For example, it has a unique biology and, as the study authors themselves describe, “an unprecedented polyploidy of more than half a million copies of a very large genome.” Instead of having only one circular bacterial chromosome, it has multiplied hundreds of thousands of times.

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When scientists at the Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute sequenced the DNA of the newly discovered bacteria, they found that the genome is huge, with 11 million bases covering about 11,000. The genes are clearly distinguishable. Typically, bacterial genomes average about 4 million bases and about 3,900 genes. Moreover, like many eukaryotic microorganisms, the so-called protists (for example, “our slipper cousin,” Herbert said) go through a dimorphic life cycle with asymmetric segregation of chromosomes in daughter cells (they can be Small nuclei and large nucleus that we learned in school are a distant analogy).

To make it more interesting, the genetic material is separated from the rest of the cell by a membrane (although they obviously do not have eukaryotic-looking chromosomes, genes do not have the structure of eukaryotic genes, etc.). What’s more, Thiomargarita magnifica makes proteins in the environment attached to this membrane – that’s what our cells do, where in a certain part of the endoplasmic reticulum, the part closest to the cell nucleus, ribosomes literally sit to synthesize proteins that will immediately go inside each other’s network and be transported to where it is needed.

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In the case of the giant Caribbean Thiomargerity, the ribosomes also reside in a vesicle filled with DNA, which makes protein synthesis more efficient. Thus, the only species discovered so far challenge traditional notions of bacteria. Nothing is impossible in the world of bacteria!

Are these large, complex microbes (I don’t know if the name is still used here) the missing link in evolution between bacteria and complex eukaryotic cells? Scientists divided their lives for a long time into two groups. First, the rocarotenes, which include bacteria and single-celled microbes called archaea. The second – eukaryotes, according to the knowledge established to this day, are closely related to the archaea. They include everything from the aforementioned slippers or yeast to pine trees and people. Newly discovered microbe blurs the line between prokaryotes and eukaryotes.

Less than 10 years ago, Olivier Gros, a marine biologist at the University of the French Antilles (Guadeloupe and Martinique in the Caribbean) in Pointe-a-Pitre, came across a strange creature growing as thin fibers on the surface of decaying mangrove leaves. In a local swamp. It wasn’t until five years later that he and his colleagues realized that the organisms were in fact bacteria. And they underestimated how unique these microbes are until recently, when Jean-Marie Voland, a PhD student at Grossa, took on the challenge of trying to characterize them.


This isn’t the first story that routine kills in science and sometimes nothing can happen better than a PhD student with ambition, but it’s so beautiful.

Voland went to the American mecca for marine biologists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory on his postdoctoral fellowship, then went down hill. He came up with a ready-made project – he knew that this structure about a centimeter long is a single cell, as well as a bacterial cell in terms of the biochemistry of the membrane, the proteins in it, the structure of the ribosome, etc. He also knew that this cell had two membranous spurs, one of which contained all of the cell’s DNA.

Perhaps it is time to rethink our definition of eukaryotes and prokaryotes, because on the basis of “they contain genetic material in a separate space of a cell separated by a membrane”, it is impossible to do this basic division.

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