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Shotgun sequencing finds nanoorganisms

corresponded to five bacteria and Archaea - four of them uncultivated at that time, though closely related to known microbes.

Baker probed the gene fragments more thoroughly to turn up three Archaea from a totally unknown group, probably representing a new phylum among the several dozen known phyla of Archaea. They fall within a large class of microbes known as thermophiles, which are Archaea that live in warm and even scalding conditions. Many of these thermophiles have been recovered from hydrothermal vents in the deep mid-ocean ridges, where lava boils up between continental plates.

Once Baker had found gene segments (ribosomal RNA) from three Archaea, he was able to fish the microbes out of the slime soup and found that they were extremely small, around 200 nanometers in diameter, the size of large viruses. Bacteria average about five times this diameter.

These therefore could be the smallest organisms ever found, though Baker needs to culture them before confirming this. Because they're so small, however, they may not be free-living.

"We're not sure they can live independently, whether they have enough genes to fend for themselves, but instead are symbiotic with another organism or are feeding off another organism," Baker said.

Baker now is trying to find the right conditions for these Archaea to thrive in a culture dish. For now, he has dubbed them ARMAN-1, -2 and -3, for Archaeal Richmond Mine Acidophilic Nanoorganisms. Ted Arman is the owner of the mine.


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Contact: Robert Sanders
rsanders@berkeley.edu
510-643-6998
University of California - Berkeley
21-Dec-2006


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