SciCombinator

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Concept: Eukaryote

461

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

282

Leeuwenhoek’s 1677 paper, the famous ‘letter on the protozoa’, gives the first detailed description of protists and bacteria living in a range of environments. The colloquial, diaristic style conceals the workings of a startlingly original experimental mind. Later scientists could not match the resolution and clarity of Leeuwenhoek’s microscopes, so his discoveries were doubted or even dismissed over the following centuries, limiting their direct influence on the history of biology; but work in the twentieth century confirmed Leeuwenhoek’s discovery of bacterial cells, with a resolution of less than 1 µm. Leeuwenhoek delighted most in the forms, interactions and behaviour of his little ‘animalcules’, which inhabited a previously unimagined microcosmos. In these reflections on the scientific reach of Leeuwenhoek’s ideas and observations, I equate his questions with the preoccupations of our genomic era: what is the nature of Leeuwenhoek’s animalcules, where do they come from, how do they relate to each other? Even with the powerful tools of modern biology, the answers are far from resolved-these questions still challenge our understanding of microbial evolution. This commentary was written to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

Concepts: Bacteria, Organism, Microbiology, Eukaryote, Science, Microorganism, Protist, Royal Society

234

Although most eukaryotes reproduce sexually at some moment of their life cycle, as much as a fifth of fungal species were thought to reproduce exclusively asexually. Nevertheless, recent studies have revealed the occurrence of sex in some of these supposedly asexual species. For industrially relevant fungi, for which inoculums are produced by clonal-subcultures since decades, the potentiality for sex is of great interest for strain improvement strategies. Here, we investigated the sexual capability of the fungus Penicillium roqueforti, used as starter for blue cheese production. We present indirect evidence suggesting that recombination could be occurring in this species. The screening of a large sample of strains isolated from diverse substrates throughout the world revealed the existence of individuals of both mating types, even in the very same cheese. The MAT genes, involved in fungal sexual compatibility, appeared to evolve under purifying selection, suggesting that they are still functional. The examination of the recently sequenced genome of the FM 164 cheese strain enabled the identification of the most important genes known to be involved in meiosis, which were found to be highly conserved. Linkage disequilibria were not significant among three of the six marker pairs and 11 out of the 16 possible allelic combinations were found in the dataset. Finally, the detection of signatures of repeat induced point mutations (RIP) in repeated sequences and transposable elements reinforces the conclusion that P. roqueforti underwent more or less recent sex events. In this species of high industrial importance, the induction of a sexual cycle would open the possibility of generating new genotypes that would be extremely useful to diversify cheese products.

Concepts: Gene, Genetics, Evolution, Biology, Eukaryote, Fungus, Asexual reproduction, Penicillium roqueforti

217

Several recent studies hint at shared patterns in decision-making between taxonomically distant organisms, yet few studies demonstrate and dissect mechanisms of decision-making in simpler organisms. We examine decision-making in the unicellular slime mould Physarum polycephalum using a classical decision problem adapted from human and animal decision-making studies: the two-armed bandit problem. This problem has previously only been used to study organisms with brains, yet here we demonstrate that a brainless unicellular organism compares the relative qualities of multiple options, integrates over repeated samplings to perform well in random environments, and combines information on reward frequency and magnitude in order to make correct and adaptive decisions. We extend our inquiry by using Bayesian model selection to determine the most likely algorithm used by the cell when making decisions. We deduce that this algorithm centres around a tendency to exploit environments in proportion to their reward experienced through past sampling. The algorithm is intermediate in computational complexity between simple, reactionary heuristics and calculation-intensive optimal performance algorithms, yet it has very good relative performance. Our study provides insight into ancestral mechanisms of decision-making and suggests that fundamental principles of decision-making, information processing and even cognition are shared among diverse biological systems.

Concepts: Bacteria, Decision making, Biology, Organism, Eukaryote, Microorganism, Computational complexity theory, Physarum polycephalum

193

Some microbes possess the ability to adaptively manipulate host behavior. To better understand how such microbial parasites control animal behavior, we examine the cell-level interactions between the species-specific fungal parasite Ophiocordyceps unilateralis sensu lato and its carpenter ant host (Camponotus castaneus) at a crucial moment in the parasite’s lifecycle: when the manipulated host fixes itself permanently to a substrate by its mandibles. The fungus is known to secrete tissue-specific metabolites and cause changes in host gene expression as well as atrophy in the mandible muscles of its ant host, but it is unknown how the fungus coordinates these effects to manipulate its host’s behavior. In this study, we combine techniques in serial block-face scanning-electron microscopy and deep-learning-based image segmentation algorithms to visualize the distribution, abundance, and interactions of this fungus inside the body of its manipulated host. Fungal cells were found throughout the host body but not in the brain, implying that behavioral control of the animal body by this microbe occurs peripherally. Additionally, fungal cells invaded host muscle fibers and joined together to form networks that encircled the muscles. These networks may represent a collective foraging behavior of this parasite, which may in turn facilitate host manipulation.

Concepts: Bacteria, Organism, Eukaryote, Fungus, Muscle, Parasitism, Ant, Mutualism

188

Plants are able to sense the magnitude and direction of gravity. This capacity is thought to reside in selected cell types within the plant body that are equipped with specialized organelles called statoliths. However, most plant cells do not possess statoliths, yet they respond to changes in gravitational acceleration. To understand the effect of gravity on the metabolism and cellular functioning of non-specialized plant cells, we investigated a rapidly growing plant cell devoid of known statoliths and without gravitropic behavior, the pollen tube. The effects of hyper-gravity and omnidirectional exposure to gravity on intracellular trafficking and on cell wall assembly were assessed in Camellia pollen tubes, a model system with highly reproducible growth behavior in vitro. Using an epi-fluorescence microscope mounted on the Large Diameter Centrifuge at the European Space Agency, we were able to demonstrate that vesicular trafficking is reduced under hyper-gravity conditions. Immuno-cytochemistry confirmed that both in hyper and omnidirectional gravity conditions, the characteristic spatial profiles of cellulose and callose distribution in the pollen tube wall were altered, in accordance with a dose-dependent effect on pollen tube diameter. Our findings suggest that in response to gravity induced stress, the pollen tube responds by modifying cell wall assembly to compensate for the altered mechanical load. The effect was reversible within few minutes demonstrating that the pollen tube is able to quickly adapt to changing stress conditions.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Cell, Plastid, Eukaryote, Cell biology, Cell wall, Vacuole, Plant cell

179

The shape and function of plant cells are often highly interdependent. The puzzle-shaped cells that appear in the epidermis of many plants are a striking example of a complex cell shape, however their functional benefit has remained elusive. We propose that these intricate forms provide an effective strategy to reduce mechanical stress in the cell wall of the epidermis. When tissue-level growth is isotropic, we hypothesize that lobes emerge at the cellular level to prevent formation of large isodiametric cells that would bulge under the stress produced by turgor pressure. Data from various plant organs and species support the relationship between lobes and growth isotropy, which we test with mutants where growth direction is perturbed. Using simulation models we show that a mechanism actively regulating cellular stress plausibly reproduces the development of epidermal cell shape. Together, our results suggest that mechanical stress is a key driver of cell-shape morphogenesis.

Concepts: Cell, Organism, Plastid, Eukaryote, Plant, Cell biology, Cell wall, Plant cell

177

The cell walls in plants are made up of just four basic building blocks: cellulose (the main structural fibre of the plant kingdom) hemicellulose, lignin and pectin. Although the microstructure of plant cell walls varies in different types of plants, broadly speaking, cellulose fibres reinforce a matrix of hemicellulose and either pectin or lignin. The cellular structure of plants varies too, from the largely honeycomb-like cells of wood to the closed-cell, liquid-filled foam-like parenchyma cells of apples and potatoes and to composites of these two cellular structures, as in arborescent palm stems. The arrangement of the four basic building blocks in plant cell walls and the variations in cellular structure give rise to a remarkably wide range of mechanical properties: Young’s modulus varies from 0.3 MPa in parenchyma to 30 GPa in the densest palm, while the compressive strength varies from 0.3 MPa in parenchyma to over 300 MPa in dense palm. The moduli and compressive strength of plant materials span this entire range. This study reviews the composition and microstructure of the cell wall as well as the cellular structure in three plant materials (wood, parenchyma and arborescent palm stems) to explain the wide range in mechanical properties in plants as well as their remarkable mechanical efficiency.

Concepts: Eukaryote, Plant, Fungus, Cell wall, Lignin, Cellulose, Wood, Plant cell

174

Borrelia burgdorferi, the agent of Lyme disease, has cholesterol and cholesterol-glycolipids that are essential for bacterial fitness, are antigenic, and could be important in mediating interactions with cells of the eukaryotic host. We show that the spirochetes can acquire cholesterol from plasma membranes of epithelial cells. In addition, through fluorescent and confocal microscopy combined with biochemical approaches, we demonstrated that B. burgdorferi labeled with the fluorescent cholesterol analog BODIPY-cholesterol or (3)H-labeled cholesterol transfer both cholesterol and cholesterol-glycolipids to HeLa cells. The transfer occurs through two different mechanisms, by direct contact between the bacteria and eukaryotic cell and/or through release of outer membrane vesicles. Thus, two-way lipid exchange between spirochetes and host cells can occur. This lipid exchange could be an important process that contributes to the pathogenesis of Lyme disease.

Concepts: Archaea, Bacteria, Eukaryote, Cell membrane, Lyme disease, Borrelia burgdorferi, Borrelia, Spirochaete

172

BACKGROUND: DNA methylation serves as an important epigenetic mark in both eukaryotic and prokaryotic organisms. In eukaryotes, the most common epigenetic mark is 5-methylcytosine, whereas prokaryotes can have 6-methyladenine, 4-methylcytosine, or 5-methylcytosine. Single-molecule, real-time sequencing is capable of directly detecting all three types of modified bases. However, the kinetic signature of 5-methylcytosine is subtle, which presents a challenge for detection. We investigated whether conversion of 5-methylcytosine to 5-carboxylcytosine using the enzyme Tet1 would enhance the kinetic signature, thereby improving detection. RESULTS: We characterized the kinetic signatures of various cytosine modifications, demonstrating that 5-carboxylcytosine has a larger impact on the local polymerase rate than 5-methylcytosine. Using Tet1-mediated conversion, we show improved detection of 5-methylcytosine using in vitro methylated templates and apply the method to the characterization of 5-methylcytosine sites in the genomes of Escherichia coli MG1655 and Bacillus halodurans C-125. CONCLUSIONS: We have developed a method for the enhancement of directly detecting 5-methylcytosine during single-molecule, real-time sequencing. Using Tet1 to convert 5-methylcytosine to 5-carboxylcytosine improves the detection rate of this important epigenetic marker, thereby complementing the set of readily detectable microbial base modifications, and enhancing the ability to interrogate eukaryotic epigenetic markers.

Concepts: DNA, Archaea, Bacteria, Organism, Eukaryote, Prokaryote, DNA methylation, Bisulfite sequencing