Secret Life of Microbes

Posted on March 13, 2008  Comments (1)

New Window Opens on the Secret Life of Microbes: Scientists Develop First Microbial Profiles of Ecosystems

Nowhere is the principle of “strength in numbers” more apparent than in the collective power of microbes: despite their simplicity, these one-cell organisms–which number about 5 million trillion trillion strong (no, that is not a typo) on Earth–affect virtually every ecological process, from the decay of organic material to the production of oxygen.

But even though microbes essentially rule the Earth, scientists have never before been able to conduct comprehensive studies of microbes and their interactions with one another in their natural habitats.

Because microbes are an ecosystem’s first-responders, by monitoring changes in an ecosystem’s microbial capabilities, scientists can detect ecological responses to stresses earlier than would otherwise be possible–even before such responses might be visibly apparent in plants or animals, Rohwer said.

Evidence that viruses–which are known to be ten times more abundant than even microbes–serve as gene banks for ecosystems. This evidence includes observations that viruses in the nine ecosystems carried large loads of DNA without using such DNA themselves. Rohwer believes that the viruses probably transfer such excess DNA to bacteria during infections, and thereby pass on “new genetic tricks” to their microbial hosts. The study also indicates that by transporting the DNA to new locations, viruses may serve as important agents in the evolution of microbes.

Related: Archaea, Bacteria, Fungi, Protista and VirusesMicrobe FoodBacterium Living with High Level Radiation

One Response to “Secret Life of Microbes”

  1. Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog » Invisible Worlds: Fastest Thing on the Planet
    March 18th, 2010 @ 10:05 am

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