In the hot springs of Yellowstone National Park, a team of researchers has discovered a novel bacterium that transforms light into chemical energy. The discovery of the chlorophyll-producing bacterium, Candidatus Chloracidobacterium (Cab.) thermophilum, will be described in the 27 July 2007 issue of the journal Science in a paper led by Don Bryant, the Ernest C. Pollard Professor of Biotechnology in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Penn State University, and David M. Ward, Professor of Microbial Studies in the Thermal Biology Institute and Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences at Montana State University, and colleagues.
Yellowstone National Park is known as a tourists' wonderland that is full of animals, strange rock formations, geysers, and colorful hot springs, but it is also a scientific reservoir housing what may be the world's largest diversity of thermophilic (heat-loving) bacteria. Yellowstone habitats have been explored since the 1960s for new organisms that may have important applications in biotechnology, for cleaning up pollution (bioremediation), or in medicine. The research team led by Bryant and Ward found the new bacterium living in the same hot springs as the most famous Yellowstone microbe, Thermus aquaticus, which has revolutionized forensics and other fields by making the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) a routine procedure.
Remarkably, the new genus and species Cab. thermophilum also belongs to a new phylum, Acidobacteria. The discovery marks only the third time in the past 100 years that a new bacterial phylum has been added to the list of those with chlorophyll-producing members. Although chlorophyll-producing bacteria are so abundant that they perform half the photosynthesis on Earth, only 5 of the 25 major groups, or phyla, of bacteria previously were known to contain members with this ability.