New to Science: October Edition

Posted on October 8, 2014   by Jon Fuhrmann

Each month, the Society for General Microbiology publishes the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiologywhich 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.

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope on Flickr under CC-BY-2.0

The harvesting season is slowly coming to a close in large parts of the northern hemisphere – incidentally, the word ‘harvest’ itself originates in the Old English hærfest, meaning ‘autumn’. Microbiologists, too, have been busy in recent weeks, and as preparations begin for various harvest and thanksgiving celebrations around the world, we are introduced to some intriguing new agriculturally themed species in the latest edition of IJSEM.

Any idyllic notions you may hold about farm work are quickly dispelled when it comes to microbiology. An American team, for example, identified Peptoniphilus stercorisuis in a sample from a storage tank containing swine manure. The bacterium is the first known member of a new taxonomic family, the Peptoniphilaceae.

In Japan, the focus was on cattle waste, as a team from Yamagata University isolated Propionispira arcuata from a methane-based biogas reactor that uses cow pats to produce fertiliser and biogas for fuel. Based on their findings, the researchers also amended the description of the Propionispira genus and reclassified two previously-known species into the genus.

Elsewhere, the focus was on seafood rather than land-based livestock. In India, scientists from Hyderabad discovered Alcanivorax xenomutans in a shrimp cultivation pond in the tropical south of the country. A Taiwanese and Korean team, meanwhile, investigated a shrimp pond in southern Taiwan and isolated Undibacterium squillarum.

Of course, plants and animals have their uses beyond nutrition. Near the demilitarized zone separating South Korea from North Korea, Korean researchers identified Terrabacter koreensis in the soil of a decorative flower bed. Across the East and South China Seas, a Chinese team isolated Prauserella coralliicola from stony corals near the island of Hainan, not far from Hong Kong.

Many microbes, however, shun the relatively benign environments we have seen so far. Chinese scientists discovered Pseudoxanthobacter liyangensis in soil heavily contaminated with the potent insecticide DDT. Just a few hundred miles to the south, Acinetobacter guangdongensis was isolated from lead-zinc ore from an abandoned mine in the southern Guangdong province.

Extremely salty environments harbour a wide variety of microbial life forms specifically adapted to survival under such harsh conditions. Iranian and Spanish researchers discovered a new species of archaeon in a mud sample taken from the Aran-Bidgol lake in Iran and named it Halovivax limisalsi. In China’s western Xinjiang province, Saccharopolyspora halotolerans was isolated from the site of Lop Nor, a former salt lake that has now mostly dried up.

Scientists from Finland, Germany and Romania discovered a new archaeon in an underground cave in eastern Romania that was completely isolated from the outside world for over 5 million years until its accidental discovery in 1986. In the eternal darkness of the cave, an entire ecosystem based on sulphur developed and is only now being explored. The novel archaeon, Methanosarcina spelaei, is just one of many new species scientists hope to discover here.

But the prize for the microbe discovered in the most unusual location goes to a team from the USA. They discovered Deinococcus phoenicis in a cleanroom at the Kennedy Space Centre – the very room where the Phoenix spacecraft was assembled for its Mars mission. Cleanrooms are kept scrupulously sterile to ensure that as few microbes as possible adhere to spacecraft to embark on an interplanetary journey – but occasionally, a few hardy organisms do survive.

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: NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope on Flickr under CC-BY-2.0