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First-Ever Scientific Estimate Of Total Bacteria On Earth Shows Far Greater,,Numbers Than Ever Known Before

wing the amount of it could contribute substantially to knowledge of carbon cycles. Scientists assume that carbon in the bacteria that live in soil and subsurface takes up about one-half of their dry weight. The team thus found that the total amount of bacterial carbon in the soil and subsurface to be yet another staggering number, 5 X 1017 g or the weight of the United Kingdom..

Rather surprisingly, the group at Georgia found that the total carbon of bacteria is nearly equal to the total carbon found in plants. The inclusion of this carbon in global models will greatly increase estimates of the amount of carbon stored in living organisms. The new estimates could also change assumptions about the relative amount in plants of other essential nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus.

"It had been estimated before that one-half of the living protoplasm on Earth is microbial, but our new figures indicate that this estimate is probably much too conservative," said Whitman.

The study could open new areas of inquiry, especially about the rate of mutations and how bacteria operate in nature. The new numbers also point out once again that events that are extremely rare in the laboratory could occur frequently in nature. In the meantime, despite the new estimate of total bacteria, researchers have their hands full just listing the number of bacterial species.

In the meantime, consider this problem: Because the number of bacteria is so large, events that would occur once in 10 billion years in the laboratory would occur every second in nature.


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Contact: Phil Williams
philwpio@arches.uga.edu
(706) 542-8501
University of Georgia
24-Aug-1998


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