Scientists have discovered a new type of bacteria visible to the naked eye, naming it the largest bacterium in the world.
The exaggerated thiomargarita was found in the shallow mangrove swamps of the Caribbean, and means scientists are now redefining what’s possible for the bacteria.
Single-celled, non-pathogenic organism, up to about 2 cm long and contained in small membrane-bound sacs.
Marine biologist Jean-Marie Volland, who has published research on life forms, said: “It’s thousands of times larger than normal-sized bacteria. Discovering this bacterium is like encountering a human. as high as Mount Everest”.
“It’s larger than what we think is the maximum possible size for a bacterium… They’re about the same size and shape as an eyelash.”
They were found in several areas of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean, in sulfur-rich seawater, by University of the Antilles microbiologist and study co-leader Olivier Gros.
He said: “In 2009, I found long white fibers stuck to a sunken leaf of a mangrove tree. I found such fibers fascinating. I brought them back to the lab for analysis.
“It was surprising to me that there was a giant bacterium living in the mangroves of Guadeloupe.”
An average species of bacteria is 1 to 5 micrometers (0.001 mm) in length, but this species is 10,000 micrometers (four tenths of an inch or a centimeter) long, with some being twice as long.
To date, the largest known bacterium is about 750 micrometers.
Despite its length, the exaggerated Thiomargarita is not the largest known single-celled organism on Earth, with the marine algae Caulerpa taxifolia taking the top spot at 15 to 30cm in length.
Mr. Volland added that the new bacteria show how some life on Earth is still waiting to be discovered.