New to Science: June 2014

Posted on June 11, 2014   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.


As Londoners recover from sunburn sustained during last weekend’s summery weather, it is worth bearing in mind that this is far from the norm. Nowhere does this become more apparent than in salt production. For millenia, salterns have been used to evaporate seawater, leaving behind pure salt. In most countries, the heat from the sun is sufficient for this process, but in the UK saltwater is often boiled to facilitate evaporation when it is not sunny enough. Besides salt, salterns also contain a variety of microbes, including two that were newly discovered this month – Salinigranum rubrum in Gangxi, China, and Alkalibacillus almallahensis in Granada, Spain.

Microbes also flourish in other environments that most of us would consider decidedly unpleasant to live in. A French team, for example, discovered Methanococcoides vulcani in the Napoli mud volcano just off southern Crete. In Japan, Methanohalophilus levihalophilus was found living in a natural aquifer holding some 375 billion cubic metres of natural gas. Both these locations are extremely rich in methane, and given that a wide range of life forms live under similar environmental conditions, it comes as no surprise that scientists have speculated that methane-based life may exist in places like Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.

Instead of methane, Xenophilus arsenoresistens is particularly resistant to high levels of arsenite – a compound of the toxic metal arsenic. This bacterium was isolated by a Chinese team from farmland in Chenzhou in southern China. In the east of the country, Nocardioides soli was identified in agricultural soil near Changzhou, not far from Shanghai. This microbe specialises in degrading carbendazim, a widely used pesticide, and therefore thrives in agricultural regions. Meanwhile, German researchers examined arid, acidic savannah soils in Erichsfelde, Namibia, and isolated Aridibacter famidurans and A. kavangonensis. On the other side of southern Africa, Candidatus Phytoplasma palmicola, a microbe that causes disease in coconuts, was discovered in Mozambique.

Other plants are hosts to less hostile microbial communities. Rhodanobacter glycinis is one such benign bacterium, which was found in soybeans from Coimbatore, India. In Ganzhou, China, Bradyrhizobium ganzhouense was isolated from an Australian Blackwood tree normally native to eastern Australia. Meanwhile, a pan-European team discovered Nitrolancea hollandica in a bioreactor in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

Working in a very different environment, researchers from Japan isolated Polymorphobacter multimanifer from a rock crevice at Skallen, an area in Queen Maud Land, Antarctica. The bare, white rock that dominates the area, as well as the shape of the local hills, led Norwegian explorers to name the region after their word for “skull”.

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