Nav: Home

Discovery of microbes with mixed membranes sheds new light on early evolution of life

September 17, 2020

Changing skins

Cells are surrounded by a layer of membrane lipids that protect them from changes in their environment such as temperature, much in the same way that our skin changes when we are cold or exposed to the sun. Lead author and NIOZ senior scientist Laura Villanueva explains why they make such interesting biomarkers. 'When a cell dies, these lipids preserve like fossils and hold ancient-old information on Earths' early environmental conditions.' Our tree of life includes small and simple cells (Bacteria and Archaea) and more complex cells (Eukaryotes), including animals and humans. Bacteria and Eukaryotes share a similar lipid membrane. Looking at Archaea, their 'skin' or membrane looks very different and is primarily designed to help these microorganisms to survive in extreme environments. Villanueva: 'This "lipid divide", or difference in membranes between Bacteria and Eukaryotes on the one hand and Archaea on the other, is believed to have happened after the emergence of Bacteria and Archaea from the last universal cellular ancestor (LUCA).'

Missing piece hidden in the deep Black Sea

The leading theory is that Eukaryotes evolved from a symbiosis event between archaeal and bacterial cells in which the archaeal cell was the host. But how does this work when their 'skins' are so different and share no sign of common ancestry? Villanueva: 'To explain the creation of more complex life-forms, the archaeal membrane must have made a switch to a bacterial type membrane. Such a switch likely needed a transition period in which the two membrane types were mixed.' However, mixed lipid membranes had never been found in microbes until the team of Villanueva made an unexpected discovery in de deep waters of the Black Sea.

Villanueva: 'We found a possible missing piece of this puzzle in the Black Sea. Here, an abundant group of bacteria thrive in the deep-sea, absent of oxygen and with high sulfide concentration. We discovered that the genetic material of this group did not only carry pathway genes for bacterial lipids but archaeal ones as well.' The peculiarity was also found in the genetic material of other, closely related Bacteria and supports the idea that this ability to create 'mixed' membranes is more widespread than previously thought. This discovery sheds new light on the evolution of all cellular life forms and may have important consequences for the interpretation of archaeal lipid fossils in the geological record and paleoclimate reconstructions.
-end-
The research team from the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ) and Utrecht University have published their findings in the prestigious ISME Journal.

Villanueva, L., von Meijenfeldt, F.A.B., Westbye, A.B., Yadav, S., Hopmans, E.C., Dutilh, B.E., Sinninge Damsté, J.S. 

Bridging the membrane lipid divide: bacteria of the FCB group superphylum have the potential to synthesize archaeal ether lipids. 

 ISME J (2020)

Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research

Related Bacteria Articles:

Siblings can also differ from one another in bacteria
A research team from the University of Tübingen and the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) is investigating how pathogens influence the immune response of their host with genetic variation.
How bacteria fertilize soya
Soya and clover have their very own fertiliser factories in their roots, where bacteria manufacture ammonium, which is crucial for plant growth.
Bacteria might help other bacteria to tolerate antibiotics better
A new paper by the Dynamical Systems Biology lab at UPF shows that the response by bacteria to antibiotics may depend on other species of bacteria they live with, in such a way that some bacteria may make others more tolerant to antibiotics.
Two-faced bacteria
The gut microbiome, which is a collection of numerous beneficial bacteria species, is key to our overall well-being and good health.
Microcensus in bacteria
Bacillus subtilis can determine proportions of different groups within a mixed population.
Right beneath the skin we all have the same bacteria
In the dermis skin layer, the same bacteria are found across age and gender.
Bacteria must be 'stressed out' to divide
Bacterial cell division is controlled by both enzymatic activity and mechanical forces, which work together to control its timing and location, a new study from EPFL finds.
How bees live with bacteria
More than 90 percent of all bee species are not organized in colonies, but fight their way through life alone.
The bacteria building your baby
Australian researchers have laid to rest a longstanding controversy: is the womb sterile?
Hopping bacteria
Scientists have long known that key models of bacterial movement in real-world conditions are flawed.
More Bacteria News and Bacteria Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: The Power Of Spaces
How do spaces shape the human experience? In what ways do our rooms, homes, and buildings give us meaning and purpose? This hour, TED speakers explore the power of the spaces we make and inhabit. Guests include architect Michael Murphy, musician David Byrne, artist Es Devlin, and architect Siamak Hariri.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

What If?
There's plenty of speculation about what Donald Trump might do in the wake of the election. Would he dispute the results if he loses? Would he simply refuse to leave office, or even try to use the military to maintain control? Last summer, Rosa Brooks got together a team of experts and political operatives from both sides of the aisle to ask a slightly different question. Rather than arguing about whether he'd do those things, they dug into what exactly would happen if he did. Part war game part choose your own adventure, Rosa's Transition Integrity Project doesn't give us any predictions, and it isn't a referendum on Trump. Instead, it's a deeply illuminating stress test on our laws, our institutions, and on the commitment to democracy written into the constitution. This episode was reported by Bethel Habte, with help from Tracie Hunte, and produced by Bethel Habte. Jeremy Bloom provided original music. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.     You can read The Transition Integrity Project's report here.