Microbes in the News

Elusive microbe that consumes ethane found under the sea

Stephen W. Ragsdale                3/27/2019



Summary: In anoxic regions of the ocean a microbe is able to oxidize ethane with the help of its neighbors. Several other species are able to break down methane, propane, and butane. In environments which contain oxygen, using these molecules is thermodynamically favorable. In the absence of oxygen, it is much less favorable, and needs some assistance from other microbes. There is a syntrophy (beneficial to both sides) relationship between the newly discovered ethane eating microbe Candidatus Argoarcheaum ethanivorans and Desulfosarcina which reduces sulfate to sulfide.

Connections: This article discussed some different ways microbes obtain energy. The newly discovered microbe is a methanotroph. Coupling the reaction of one microbe to allow for another microbe to use a unique energy source is not something we covered in class and seems to be a novel idea. We have discussed how the electron tower can predict what microbes use for energy in different environments, however it is cool to learn there are microbes that don’t seem to follow the pattern.

Critical Analysis: It is easy to forget that microbes work together and that each species doesn’t live in a vacuum. The idea that species can transfer molecules and electrons to each other’s benefit is a new idea for me. I was also curious about how we could harness the power of these microbes to break down similar molecular compounds that may cause harm in the environment. I think this story is scientifically accurate because the author explained the controversy between two ideas and provided evidence from research journals to explain each idea. The author talks more about the microbes that break down methane, butane and propane because more is known about them, however it did make it difficult to tell if the author was describing the new microbe or the properties of one already well known.

Question: Can these microbes be used to clean up chemicals and how can we harness the coupled power of microbial metabolism?

A2: Microbes in the News: New Species in the Ice

Article and link:  https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/01/190115121103.htm

Published: January 15th, 2019

Scientists identify two new species of fungi in retreating Arctic glacier

Summary- This short article introduces two new fungal species which inhabit glacial ice on Ellesmere Island. The author also begins to explain how their habitat is being affected by climate change and what further research is being performed.

Connections- While we have not covered much yet, I did find it interesting that the researchers proposed the name Mrakia hoshinonis after Tamotsu Hoshino, a polar region fungi researcher from the National Institute of Advanced Science and Technology. The other species is proposed to be called Vishniacozyma ellesmerensis after the island where it was discovered. The naming process reminded me of the Epithet assignment. These microbes also live in cold environments, which means they could be categorized as psychrophiles.

Critical analysis- I found this story interesting because it shows just how much we still don’t know about microbes in general, let alone the ones that live in extreme environments. I do not think there was enough information in this story to say it is scientifically accurate or not. The author does not talk too much on how the researchers found and identified the species. Because of our lack of knowledge, it is easy to see why two new species could be found in one small area. The author went on a tangent in the article to talk about climate change. And while it had to do with further research, I felt like it stole the show from the idea of new species in glacial ice and what the implications are of the discovery. The public may not recognize all the different aspects that go into discovering a new species, and they might get caught up in the scary climate change drama.

Question- What can we learn from microbes that live in extremely cold environments?