Yellowstone Microbe Piggybacks On Others To Steal Their Nutrients

The little thieving archaea attaching themselves to the cell membranes (arrows) of the larger archaea. Scale bars are 200 nanometers across. Wurch et al/Nature Communications
Robin Andrews 06 Jul 2016, 16:16

Spare a thought for the archaea, a group of microscopic organisms first discovered in the late 1970s. These single-celled organisms are somewhat similar to bacteria, but have several physical differences and tend to be found in extreme environments. Unlike bacteria, these little critters never get the attention they deserve, but to be honest, it’s probably because scientists still know very little about them.

Thankfully, two types of archaea have now finally been isolated by researchers at one of their original discovery sites – Yellowstone National Park, specifically within one of the acidic, geothermal springs there. According to a new study in Nature Communications, these two archaea have a rather curious relationship wherein one of them piggybacks around the environment on the other.

“We discovered and cultured a novel organism from a group of organisms that people have been trying to get for over a decade,” Mircea Podar, head of a team of researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Biosciences Division and coordinating author of the study, said in a statement.

The novel specimen, Nanopusillus acidilobi, is just 100 to 300 billionths of a meter in size – stupendously small, and, as it turns out, quite sneaky. Hiding in the concave-shaped depressions of the comparatively sizable members of the archaea genus Acidilobus, N. acidilobi drifts around its broiling, boiling environment, letting its driver do all the work for it.

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