Scientists Discover Unique Centimeter-Long Bacterium

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Your first thought when you encounter the term “bacteria” is likely to conjure images of microscopic critters. However, a bacteria that has now been designated as the world’s biggest ever identified can be seen with the naked eye without the need of any special instruments. The filament-like Thiomargarita magnifica, as it’s known, may be as lengthy as a human eyelash. This makes it larger than certain more complicated species, like flies, mites or worms, according to the BBC. Olivier Gros, a marine researcher in the French Caribbean, was the first one to find it in 2009.

Gros first assumed he was seeing a eukaryote instead of a regular prokaryotic creature like bacteria because of its size. Until he returned to his laboratory, he had no idea what was going on. Jean-Marie Volland and his colleagues at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California used transmission electron microscopy to demonstrate that the bacteria is a single-celled organism. The centimeter-long bacteria has just been described in a Science publication.

Using a range of microscopy techniques, the authors observed highly polyploid cells with DNA and ribosomes compartmentalized within membranes. Single cells of the bacterium, dubbed Candidatus Thiomargarita magnifica, although thin and tubular, stretched more than a centimeter in length.

Aside from the fact that T. magnifica thrives on mangrove sediments in the Caribbean and uses chemosynthesis, which is a process comparable to photosynthesis, there is still a great deal of mystery surrounding this species. And it’s going to take a while for scientists to figure out what it’s all about: A method for cultivating the creature is yet unknown, therefore scientists must collect samples every time an experiment is planned. The organism’s irregular life cycle doesn’t help.

Volland and his colleagues are currently attempting to develop T. magnifica in the laboratory. When it comes to Gros, he now believes that other researchers will go out searching for even larger bacteria, which like T. magnifica, may also be hidden in plain sight.