Filaments of the bacterium Thiomargarita magnifica from Guadeloupe, a French archipelago in the Caribbean, are seen in this undated handout image.  (via REUTERS)


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Scientists have discovered the world’s largest bacterium that can be seen with the naked eye. A strange bacterium has been found in Caribbean mangrove swamps. The slender white filament, roughly the size of a human eyelash, is “the largest bacterium ever known,” said Jean-Marie Woland, a marine biologist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and co-author of a paper announcing the discovery. Thursday in the journal Science.

Olivier Gros, a co-author and biologist at the University of the French West Indies and the University of Guyana, found the first example of this bacterium—named Thiomargarita magnifica, or “brilliant sulfur pearl”—sunk in mangrove leaves in the archipelago of Guadeloupe. 2009.

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This microscope photo provided by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in June 2022 shows part of a Thiomargarita magnifica bacterial cell. The species was discovered among the mangroves of the Guadeloupe archipelago in the French Caribbean. (AP)

But he didn’t know immediately that it was a bacterium because of its surprisingly large size, more than a third of an inch (0.9 cm) long. Genetic analysis revealed that the organism was a single bacterial cell.

“It opens up the question of how many of these giant bacteria are out there — and reminds us that we should never underestimate bacteria,” said Petra Levin, a microbiologist at Washington University in St. Louis.

Gross also found bacteria attached to oyster shells, rocks and glass bottles in the swamp.

This microscope photo provided by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in June 2022 shows part of a Thiomargarita magnifica bacterial cell.  The species was discovered among the mangroves of the Guadeloupe archipelago in the French Caribbean.
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This microscope photo provided by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in June 2022 shows part of a Thiomargarita magnifica bacterial cell. The species was discovered among the mangroves of the Guadeloupe archipelago in the French Caribbean. (AP)

Scientists are yet to grow it in lab culture, but researchers say the cell has a structure that is unusual for bacteria. One key difference: It has a large central compartment, or vacuole, that allows certain cell functions to take place in that controlled environment, rather than the entire cell.

Manuel Campos, a biologist at the French National Center for Scientific Research, said, “The acquisition of this large central vacuole certainly helps a cell circumvent the physical limitations … .

This photo provided by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in June 2022 shows mangroves in the Guadeloupe archipelago in the French Caribbean where Thiomargarita magnifica bacteria were discovered.

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This photo provided by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in June 2022 shows mangroves in the Guadeloupe archipelago in the French Caribbean where Thiomargarita magnifica bacteria were discovered. (AP)

The researchers said they are not sure why the bacterium is so large, but co-author Woland speculates that it may have been an adaptation to help it avoid being eaten by smaller organisms.

(with AP input)

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