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Synchrotron infrared unveils a mysterious microbial community
Date:1/22/2013

In the fall of 2010, Hoi-Ying Holman of the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) was approached by an international team researching a mysterious microbial community discovered deep in cold sulfur springs in southern Germany.

"They told me what they were doing and said, 'We know what you contributed to the oil-spill research,'" recalls Holman, who heads the Chemical Ecology group in Berkeley Lab's Earth Sciences Division. "They wondered if I could help them determine the biochemistry of their microbe samples."

Holman had co-authored a report in Science about bacteria in the Gulf of Mexico that thrived on the Deepwater Horizon oil plume. Using infrared spectromicroscopy at the Berkeley Synchrotron Infrared Structural Biology (BSISB) facility, which she directs at the Advanced Light Source (ALS), Holman helped determine how the novel bug obtained energy by eating the spilled crude. No stranger to subsurface bioscience, Holman would soon add a new actor to her cast of remarkable microbes.

Not extreme, but weird anyway

The name Archaea means "ancient things," but Archaea were recognized as a distinct domain of life less than forty years ago. First thought to be exclusively extremophiles lovers of boiling hot springs, deep-sea black smokers, acid mine runoff, and other inhospitable environments more and more archaea are found thriving in moderate and cold environments, almost always as minority members of much larger microbial communities.

A unique exception to this pattern was discovered less than 10 years ago in the Sippenauer Moor in Germany. In microbial mats in this cold sulfur spring's outflow, the SM1 Euryarchaeon lives in roughly equal abundance with bacteria in a community that forms symbiotic "strings of pearls": the archaea fill the "pearls" and filamentous bacteria cover the pearl surfaces and form strings between them. The two kinds of m
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Contact: Paul Preuss
paul_preuss@lbl.gov
510-486-6249
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert  

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