New to Science: January 2015

Posted on January 13, 2015   by Jon Fuhrmann

Each month, the Society for General Microbiology publishes the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology, which details newly discovered species of bacteria, fungi and protists. Here are a few of the new species that have been discovered, and the places they’ve been found. The full papers are available to journal subscribers, but the abstracts are free to read.

A warm welcome to the first 2015 edition of New to Science. We hope you have had an enjoyable and restful holiday season and are settling back into the working rhythm well. Many people, after all, seem a little shell-shocked when they return to the office after a few weeks of relaxation and indulgence.

In this respect, we are not entirely unlike hibernating animals who return into the open, bleary-eyed after spending the coldest period of the year conserving as much energy as possible. A group of Czech researchers took advantage of this behaviour and studied bats as they emerged from hibernation in caves. They discovered two new bacterial species, Serratia myotis and S. vespertilionis, while looking for causes of the deadly white-nose syndrome which has devastated bat populations in North America.

While many people avoid too much food after their Christmas excesses, microbiologists continue to study a remarkable variety of food items in their search for new microbial species. But it is not just food itself that harbours life: scientists from Cornell University investigated American seafood and dairy processing facilities and discovered two new species of Listeria bacteria. While the researchers only specified that the bacteria were discovered in “the northeastern USA”, the latin name of one of the species – L. newyorkensis – rather gives it away. The other bacterium is named L. booriae.

A German team looked at a microbe that was first isolated from a putrefied banana in the 1980s but was never formally described. They found that it belongs to the genus Corynebacterium, which includes the bacterium that causes diphtheria in humans, and named it C. glyciniphilum. In Taiwan, Lactobacillus formosensis was discovered in fermented soybean meal, a substance that is often used for poultry feed in the Far East.

French scientists, meanwhile, studied the potato flavour and smell exuded by some Arabica coffee beans, which has been known to ruin entire batches. The source of the smell has long been known to be a chemical called 2-methoxy-3-isobutylpyrazine, which is produced by a number of bacterial species. One of the species the researchers identified during their fieldwork in Rwanda and Burundi turned out to be new to science – they named it Pantoea coffeiphila.

While food clearly harbours plenty of microbes itself, it encounters many more as it passes through our digestive tract. Microbiologists at the University of Manchester isolated Faucicola mancuniensis from a healthy woman’s oropharynx, where both food and air for breathing pass through.

Animals’ gut microbiomes have also been the focus of intense study this month. In China, Gryllotalpicola reticulitermitis was isolated from the gut of a wood-feeding termite, Reticulitermes chinensis, while Belgian scientists discovered Bombella intestini in the gut of a bumblebee. Actibacter haliotis is a new species discovered in the gut of an abalone fish (Haliotis discus hannai) caught off the coast of the Korean holiday island of Jeju.

But microbes don’t just live in, on, and around other living beings. They also thrive in parts of the world that are hostile to most other life forms. Archaea, in particular, are often found in extreme environments, and this month is no exception. Thermococcus eurythermalis, for example, was isolated from an oil-coated hydrothermal vent in the Gulf of California in Mexico. The species is hyperthermophilic and piezophilic, meaning it grows best in extremely hot and high-pressure environments. Indeed, temperatures near the vent are well over 200˚C and it is located more than 1,000m below sea level.

Korean scientists discovered another archaeon, Vulcanisaeta thermophila, on the slopes of Mayon volcano in the Philippines. In northern Tunisia, Fusibacter bizertensis was isolated from liquid that had pooled at the bottom of an old kerosene storage tank, showing that even environments that we think of as hopelessly polluted harbour life. Similarly, scientists discovered the bacterium Parapedobacter indicus in Lucknow in northern India while investigating a dump site for hexachlorocyclohexane, a chemical previously used as a pesticide but now classified as hazardous.

To end this month’s New to Science on a more wholesome note, we finish with Paenibacillus shenyangensis. This species was isolated from soil under a peach tree growing in northeastern China, near the border with North Korea.

These are just a few of the new species described this month; you can see the full list on the IJSEM website. We’ll be back again next month with a host of new ones  look out for us then!

Image: Brent Hoard on Flickr under CC BY 2.0.