Naked-eye bacterium Everest discovered in Caribbean mangrove swamps Science and technology news


Scientists have discovered a new bacterium that is visible to the naked eye and dubbed it the world’s largest.

Found in the shallow mangrove swamps of the Caribbean, Thiomargarita magnifica has led scientists to now redefine what’s possible for bacteria.

The unicellular organism, which cannot cause disease, is up to two centimeters long and enclosed in small membrane-enclosed sacs.

“It is a thousand times larger than normal-sized bacteria. Discovering this bacterium is like meeting a human the size of Mount Everest,” said marine biologist Jean-Marie Volland, who published a study on the life forms.

“It’s orders of magnitude larger than what we thought was the maximum possible size for a single bacterium… They’re about the same size and shape as an eyelash.”

They were found in sulphur-rich seawater in a number of areas in Guadeloupe in the Caribbean by Olivier Gros, microbiologist and co-leader of the study, of the Universite des Antilles.

He said: “In 2009 I found long white filaments attached to a submerged leaf of a mangrove tree. I found such filaments fascinating. I brought them back to the lab for analysis.

“Big surprise for me to have such a huge bacterium in the mangroves of Guadeloupe.”

An average species of bacteria is between one and five micrometers long (equivalent to 0.001 mm), but this species measures 10,000 micrometers (four-tenths of an inch, or one centimeter), and some are twice that long.

So far, the largest known bacterium was about 750 micrometers in size.

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It was discovered in a swamp in Guadeloupe

Although long, Thiomargarita magnifica is not the largest known unicellular organism on earth, with the aquatic alga Caulerpa taxifolia taking the top spot at 15 to 30 cm in length.

Mr Volland added that the new bacteria show how part of life on Earth is still awaiting discovery, saying: “Life is fascinating, very diverse and very complex. It’s important to stay curious and open-minded.”

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