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Dormant microbes promote diversity, serve environment
Date:3/22/2010

The ability of microbes, tiny organisms that do big jobs in our environment, to go dormant not only can save them from death and possible extinction but may also play a key role in promoting biodiversity and ecosystem stability.

In a paper published this week in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, Michigan State University's Jay Lennon and Stuart Jones described how they used a mathematical model and molecular tools to study how dormancy affects the biodiversity of natural microbial communities, especially in lakes.

Dormancy is a reversible state of low metabolic activity that an organism enters when it encounters stressful conditions, such as starvation or cold temperatures. The strategy is common among plants and animals, but is also used by some microbes, most notably bacteria that cause anthrax, tuberculosis and cholera. This new study shows that dormancy is not just important for disease-causing microbes, however.

"Microbes are the most abundant and diverse organisms on earth; they carry out essential ecosystem services" said Lennon, an assistant professor of microbiology and molecular genetics who is also affiliated with the W.K. Kellogg Biological Station. "Among these services are contaminant degradation, carbon sequestration and various processes that affect plant productivity."

Scientists have recently cataloged thousands of microbial species in soil and ocean samples. These extremely high levels of biodiversity may help ensure the stability of ecosystem processes in the face of environmental change. It is not clear, however, why microbial communities are so diverse. "We think," Lennon said. "that dormancy is a critical factor that maintains microbial diversity."

Gathering samples from Michigan lakes, Lennon and Stuart examined two very different groups of microbes bacteria and eukaryotes, which are primarily algae. With the molecular data and models they developed, the researchers fou
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Contact: Tom Oswald
tom.oswald@ur.msu.edu
517-432-0920
Michigan State University
Source:Eurekalert

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