Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Archaea


Dispersal of microbes between humans and the built environment can occur through direct contact with surfaces or through airborne release; the latter mechanism remains poorly understood. Humans emit upwards of 10(6) biological particles per hour, and have long been known to transmit pathogens to other individuals and to indoor surfaces. However it has not previously been demonstrated that humans emit a detectible microbial cloud into surrounding indoor air, nor whether such clouds are sufficiently differentiated to allow the identification of individual occupants. We used high-throughput sequencing of 16S rRNA genes to characterize the airborne bacterial contribution of a single person sitting in a sanitized custom experimental climate chamber. We compared that to air sampled in an adjacent, identical, unoccupied chamber, as well as to supply and exhaust air sources. Additionally, we assessed microbial communities in settled particles surrounding each occupant, to investigate the potential long-term fate of airborne microbial emissions. Most occupants could be clearly detected by their airborne bacterial emissions, as well as their contribution to settled particles, within 1.5-4 h. Bacterial clouds from the occupants were statistically distinct, allowing the identification of some individual occupants. Our results confirm that an occupied space is microbially distinct from an unoccupied one, and demonstrate for the first time that individuals release their own personalized microbial cloud.

Concepts: Archaea, Bacteria, Organism, Microbiology, Ribosomal RNA, Biotechnology, 16S ribosomal RNA, Microorganism


Scaling laws underpin unifying theories of biodiversity and are among the most predictively powerful relationships in biology. However, scaling laws developed for plants and animals often go untested or fail to hold for microorganisms. As a result, it is unclear whether scaling laws of biodiversity will span evolutionarily distant domains of life that encompass all modes of metabolism and scales of abundance. Using a global-scale compilation of ∼35,000 sites and ∼5.6⋅10(6) species, including the largest ever inventory of high-throughput molecular data and one of the largest compilations of plant and animal community data, we show similar rates of scaling in commonness and rarity across microorganisms and macroscopic plants and animals. We document a universal dominance scaling law that holds across 30 orders of magnitude, an unprecedented expanse that predicts the abundance of dominant ocean bacteria. In combining this scaling law with the lognormal model of biodiversity, we predict that Earth is home to upward of 1 trillion (10(12)) microbial species. Microbial biodiversity seems greater than ever anticipated yet predictable from the smallest to the largest microbiome.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Archaea, Bacteria, Organism, Life, Eukaryote, Species, Microorganism


Lake Vostok, the 7(th) largest (by volume) and 4(th) deepest lake on Earth, is covered by more than 3,700 m of ice, making it the largest subglacial lake known. The combination of cold, heat (from possible hydrothermal activity), pressure (from the overriding glacier), limited nutrients and complete darkness presents extreme challenges to life. Here, we report metagenomic/metatranscriptomic sequence analyses from four accretion ice sections from the Vostok 5G ice core. Two sections accreted in the vicinity of an embayment on the southwestern end of the lake, and the other two represented part of the southern main basin. We obtained 3,507 unique gene sequences from concentrates of 500 ml of 0.22 µm-filtered accretion ice meltwater. Taxonomic classifications (to genus and/or species) were possible for 1,623 of the sequences. Species determinations in combination with mRNA gene sequence results allowed deduction of the metabolic pathways represented in the accretion ice and, by extension, in the lake. Approximately 94% of the sequences were from Bacteria and 6% were from Eukarya. Only two sequences were from Archaea. In general, the taxa were similar to organisms previously described from lakes, brackish water, marine environments, soil, glaciers, ice, lake sediments, deep-sea sediments, deep-sea thermal vents, animals and plants. Sequences from aerobic, anaerobic, psychrophilic, thermophilic, halophilic, alkaliphilic, acidophilic, desiccation-resistant, autotrophic and heterotrophic organisms were present, including a number from multicellular eukaryotes.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Cell, Archaea, Bacteria, Organism, Species, Antarctica


Changes in the human gastrointestinal microbiome are associated with several diseases. To infer causality, experiments in representative models are essential, but widely used animal models exhibit limitations. Here we present a modular, microfluidics-based model (HuMiX, human-microbial crosstalk), which allows co-culture of human and microbial cells under conditions representative of the gastrointestinal human-microbe interface. We demonstrate the ability of HuMiX to recapitulate in vivo transcriptional, metabolic and immunological responses in human intestinal epithelial cells following their co-culture with the commensal Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG) grown under anaerobic conditions. In addition, we show that the co-culture of human epithelial cells with the obligate anaerobe Bacteroides caccae and LGG results in a transcriptional response, which is distinct from that of a co-culture solely comprising LGG. HuMiX facilitates investigations of host-microbe molecular interactions and provides insights into a range of fundamental research questions linking the gastrointestinal microbiome to human health and disease.

Concepts: Medicine, Archaea, Epidemiology, Disease, Bacteria, Microbiology, Epithelium, Lactobacillus rhamnosus


Bacterial phototaxis was first recognized over a century ago, but the method by which such small cells can sense the direction of illumination has remained puzzling. The unicellular cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 moves with Type IV pili and measures light intensity and color with a range of photoreceptors. Here, we show that individual Synechocystis cells do not respond to a spatiotemporal gradient in light intensity, but rather they directly and accurately sense the position of a light source. We show that directional light sensing is possible because Synechocystis cells act as spherical microlenses, allowing the cell to see a light source and move towards it. A high-resolution image of the light source is focused on the edge of the cell opposite to the source, triggering movement away from the focused spot. Spherical cyanobacteria are probably the world’s smallest and oldest example of a camera eye.

Concepts: DNA, Cyanobacteria, Archaea, Bacteria, Organism, Light, Synechocystis, Pilus


Modern whole-organism genome analysis, in combination with biomass estimates, allows us to estimate a lower bound on the total information content in the biosphere: 5.3 × 1031 (±3.6 × 1031) megabases (Mb) of DNA. Given conservative estimates regarding DNA transcription rates, this information content suggests biosphere processing speeds exceeding yottaNOPS values (1024 Nucleotide Operations Per Second). Although prokaryotes evolved at least 3 billion years before plants and animals, we find that the information content of prokaryotes is similar to plants and animals at the present day. This information-based approach offers a new way to quantify anthropogenic and natural processes in the biosphere and its information diversity over time.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Genetics, Archaea, Organism, RNA, Base pair


The human skin is an organ with a surface area of 1.5-2 m(2) that provides our interface with the environment. The molecular composition of this organ is derived from host cells, microbiota, and external molecules. The chemical makeup of the skin surface is largely undefined. Here we advance the technologies needed to explore the topographical distribution of skin molecules, using 3D mapping of mass spectrometry data and microbial 16S rRNA amplicon sequences. Our 3D maps reveal that the molecular composition of skin has diverse distributions and that the composition is defined not only by skin cells and microbes but also by our daily routines, including the application of hygiene products. The technological development of these maps lays a foundation for studying the spatial relationships of human skin with hygiene, the microbiota, and environment, with potential for developing predictive models of skin phenotypes tailored to individual health.

Concepts: DNA, Archaea, Bacteria, Ribosomal RNA, Geography, 16S ribosomal RNA, Skin, Map


The unicellular eukaryote Tetrahymena thermophila has seven mating types. Cells can mate only when they recognize cells of a different mating type as non-self. As a ciliate, Tetrahymena separates its germline and soma into two nuclei. During growth the somatic nucleus is responsible for all gene transcription while the germline nucleus remains silent. During mating, a new somatic nucleus is differentiated from a germline nucleus and mating type is decided by a stochastic process. We report here that the somatic mating type locus contains a pair of genes arranged head-to-head. Each gene encodes a mating type-specific segment and a transmembrane domain that is shared by all mating types. Somatic gene knockouts showed both genes are required for efficient non-self recognition and successful mating, as assessed by pair formation and progeny production. The germline mating type locus consists of a tandem array of incomplete gene pairs representing each potential mating type. During mating, a complete new gene pair is assembled at the somatic mating type locus; the incomplete genes of one gene pair are completed by joining to gene segments at each end of germline array. All other germline gene pairs are deleted in the process. These programmed DNA rearrangements make this a fascinating system of mating type determination.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Genetics, Cell nucleus, Archaea, Bacteria, Chromosome


The human gut harbors thousands of bacterial taxa. A profusion of metagenomic sequence data has been generated from human stool samples in the last few years, raising the question of whether more taxa remain to be identified. We assessed metagenomic data generated by the Human Microbiome Project Consortium to determine if novel taxa remain to be discovered in stool samples from healthy individuals. To do this, we established a rigorous bioinformatics pipeline that uses sequence data from multiple platforms (Illumina GAIIX and Roche 454 FLX Titanium) and approaches (whole-genome shotgun and 16S rDNA amplicons) to validate novel taxa. We applied this approach to stool samples from 11 healthy subjects collected as part of the Human Microbiome Project. We discovered several low-abundance, novel bacterial taxa, which span three major phyla in the bacterial tree of life. We determined that these taxa are present in a larger set of Human Microbiome Project subjects and are found in two sampling sites (Houston and St. Louis). We show that the number of false-positive novel sequences (primarily chimeric sequences) would have been two orders of magnitude higher than the true number of novel taxa without validation using multiple datasets, highlighting the importance of establishing rigorous standards for the identification of novel taxa in metagenomic data. The majority of novel sequences are related to the recently discovered genus Barnesiella, further encouraging efforts to characterize the members of this genus and to study their roles in the microbial communities of the gut. A better understanding of the effects of less-abundant bacteria is important as we seek to understand the complex gut microbiome in healthy individuals and link changes in the microbiome to disease.

Concepts: Archaea, Health, Bacteria, Gut flora, Microbiology, Full genome sequencing, Microorganism, Human flora


Determining the relationships among the major groups of cellular life is important for understanding the evolution of biological diversity, but is difficult given the enormous time spans involved. In the textbook ‘three domains’ tree based on informational genes, eukaryotes and Archaea share a common ancestor to the exclusion of Bacteria. However, some phylogenetic analyses of the same data have placed eukaryotes within the Archaea, as the nearest relatives of different archaeal lineages. We compared the support for these competing hypotheses using sophisticated phylogenetic methods and an improved sampling of archaeal biodiversity. We also employed both new and existing tests of phylogenetic congruence to explore the level of uncertainty and conflict in the data. Our analyses suggested that much of the observed incongruence is weakly supported or associated with poorly fitting evolutionary models. All of our phylogenetic analyses, whether on small subunit and large subunit ribosomal RNA or concatenated protein-coding genes, recovered a monophyletic group containing eukaryotes and the TACK archaeal superphylum comprising the Thaumarchaeota, Aigarchaeota, Crenarchaeota and Korarchaeota. Hence, while our results provide no support for the iconic three-domain tree of life, they are consistent with an extended eocyte hypothesis whereby vital components of the eukaryotic nuclear lineage originated from within the archaeal radiation.

Concepts: Gene, Archaea, Bacteria, Evolution, Life, Species, Ribosome, Prokaryote