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They look like vermicelli-like threads, but be warned – it’s a water superbug

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They look like vermicelli-like threads, but be warned – it’s a water superbug
Written by aquitodovale

From time to time nature confronts us with novelties that question everything we think we have always known about a specific subject, all the certainties we took for granted. It just happened in a mangrove forest, with gods bacteria incredible.

The giant bacteria

We are in the Caribbean, in the waters of a mangrove forest. Here some researchers have discovered a species of bacteria that is perfectly visible to the naked eye: they can in fact grow to the size (and shape) of a human eyelash.

These cells are bacteria larger never observed, thousands of times larger than the best known ones. “For bacteria, encountering one of this species would be like a human meeting a similar one the size of Mount Everest,” explained Jean-Marie Volland, a microbiologist at the Joint Genome Institute in Berkeley, California. The official name of the bacterium is Magnificent Thiomargaritaand the discovery was published in the scientific journal Science.

When they were spotted, the microbes appeared white vermicelli, which formed a mantle on the leaves of dead trees floating in the water. At first, the researchers didn’t know What had found: perhaps they were mushrooms, small sponges or some other eukaryote. It was only when they extracted the DNA from the samples in the lab that the shocking revelation came: they were bacteria, gigantic single cells.

The discovery dates back to 2009, but research has moved extremely slowly due to a difficult problem: the researchers who are studying these cells are unable to make them grow in the laboratory. So every time they want to conduct an experiment they have to go back to the Caribbean mangrove forest and look for those thin, vermicelli-like filaments. And in the last two months they have disappeared: researchers have not been able to find them.

How bacteria work

Bacteria are microorganisms living, theoretically impossible to see with the naked eye, usually unicellular, and widespread everywhere. They are not always carriers of diseases, although we should keep an eye on them, especially at home: sometimes they are useful or even necessary for human survival, other times they can help us with the problem of pollution.

Their first observation dates back to 1676, when the Dutch naturalist Antoni Van Leeuwenhoek scratched his tooth and put what he came out of under the lens of a rudimentary microscope. He saw what he called “little animals” moving, by the thousands. Since then, tons of them have been discovered.

Each bacterial cell is an organism in its own right, meaning it can grow and divide into a pair of new bacteria. But bacterial cells often live together: in lakes and rivers, some bacterial cells join together to form tiny filaments.

Animal cells, as well as human and fungal cells, are much larger than bacteria, and consequently much larger complex: For one thing, they have a kind of internal skeleton that prevents them from collapsing in on themselves. They also have a nucleus that is quite distinct from the rest of the cell: bacteria instead in a certain sense I am the nucleus, and have no other organelles such as cytoplasm or cell membrane.

Inside the cells of Magnificent ThiomargaritaInstead, the researchers discovered a structure bizarre and complicated. Their membranes have many different types of compartments, different from those found in our cells, but which could allow this bacterium to grow to enormous sizes. Some of the compartments appear to be fuel manufacturing factories, others remarkably resemble human cell nuclei. Each of these compartments contains a DNA ring: while a typical bacterial cell has only one DNA ring, the Magnificent Thiomargarita it has hundreds of thousands of them.

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