Scientists have discovered the world’s largest known bacterium, which comes in the form of white filaments the size of human eyelashes, in a swamp in Guadeloupe.
At about 1cm long, the strange organism, Thiomargarita magnifica, is roughly 50 times larger than all other known giant bacteria and the first to be visible with the naked eye. The thin white strands were discovered on the surfaces of decaying mangrove leaves in shallow tropical marine marshes.
The discovery was a surprise because, according to models of cell metabolism, bacteria should simply not grow this big. Previously scientists had suggested an upper possible size limit about 100 times smaller than the new species.
“To put it into context, it would be like a human encountering another human as tall as Mount Everest,” said Jean-Marie Volland, a scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who co-authored the study.
The organism was discovered by Olivier Gros, a marine biology professor at the Université des Antilles in Guadeloupe, while searching for symbiotic bacteria in the mangrove ecosystem.