Bacteria can be exciting

Okay. Maybe not everyone would react the same way, but a researcher at Penn is waxing quite eloquent about some bacteria he and a team of other researchers found recently in the hot springs of Yellowstone National Park.

According to him, "Finding a previously unknown, chlorophyll-producing microbe is the discovery of a lifetime for someone who has studied bacterial photosynthesis for as long as I have." Bryant went on to elaborate, "I wouldn't have been as excited if I had reached into that mat and pulled out a gold nugget the size of my fist!"

[The picture there to the left is from the Penn press release linked above. It illustrates where the bacterial mats are found]

The discovery of the chlorophyll-producing bacterium, Candidatus Chloracidobacterium (Cab.) thermophilum, was described in the 27 July 2007 issue of the journal Science in a paper led by Don Bryant, the Ernest C. Pollard Professor of Biotechnology in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Penn State University.

The mat he refers to above is a group of coexisting bacteria that form a slimy mat. Cab. thermophilum grows near the surface of the mats together with cyanobacteria, also called "blue-green algae", where there is light and oxygen, at a temperature of about 122 to 151 degrees Fahrenheit (50 to 66 degrees Centigrade).

The research team led by Bryant and Ward found the new bacterium living in the same hot springs as the most famous Yellowstone microbe, Thermus aquaticus, which has revolutionized forensics and other fields by making the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) a routine procedure.

Unexpectedly, the new bacterium has special light-harvesting antennae known as chlorosomes, which contain about 250,000 chlorophylls each. No member of this phylum nor any aerobic microbe was known to make chlorosomes before this discovery.

I find this interesting for several reasons. First, it's amazing that they found any new bacteria, let alone such an amazing one, in an area that has been studied as extensively as the hot springs of Yellowstone. Second, the commercial potential of this organism might be almost as profound as that of T. aquaticus--which has made the DNA and RNA based clinical diagnostic and therapeutic possible.

Of course it is true that Cab. thermophilum does require an extreme environment in which to live but Hell, my attic gets nearly as hot as a geyser in Yellowstone every day in Spring and Summer. Why not have some energy being produced up there on my roof? Cab. thermophilum might give solar panels a run for the money in green technology circles. Or not. LOL


kenju said…
Re your comment: I don't squat anymore either, Dave...LOL. More's the pity - but if you can accomplish the same thing by angling your head - go for it...LOL there too.

I have long been amazed that bacteria can grow in such high temps!

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