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Concept: Eukaryote


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


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


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


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


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


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


Cryptococcus neoformans is a ubiquitous human fungal pathogen. This pathogen can undergo morphotype transition between the yeast and the filamentous form and such morphological transition has been implicated in virulence for decades. Morphotype transition is typically observed during mating, which is governed by pheromone signaling. Paradoxically, components specific to the pheromone signaling pathways play no or minimal direct roles in virulence. Thus, the link between morphotype transition and virulence and the underlying molecular mechanism remain elusive. Here, we demonstrate that filamentation can occur independent of pheromone signaling and mating, and both mating-dependent and mating-independent morphotype transition require the transcription factor Znf2. High expression of Znf2 is necessary and sufficient to initiate and maintain sex-independent filamentous growth under host-relevant conditions in vitro and during infection. Importantly, ZNF2 overexpression abolishes fungal virulence in murine models of cryptococcosis. Thus, Znf2 bridges the sex-independent morphotype transition and fungal pathogenicity. The impacts of Znf2 on morphological switch and pathogenicity are at least partly mediated through its effects on cell adhesion property. Cfl1, a Znf2 downstream factor, regulates morphogenesis, cell adhesion, biofilm formation, and virulence. Cfl1 is the first adhesin discovered in the phylum Basidiomycota of the Kingdom Fungi. Together with previous findings in other eukaryotic pathogens, our findings support a convergent evolution of plasticity in morphology and its impact on cell adhesion as a critical adaptive trait for pathogenesis.

Concepts: Gene expression, Bacteria, Microbiology, Eukaryote, Fungus, Yeast, Cryptococcus neoformans, Basidiomycota


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


Transglutaminases function as biological glues in animal cells, plant cells and microbes. In energy producing organelles such as chloroplasts the presence of transglutaminases was recently confirmed. Furthermore, a plastidial transglutaminase has been cloned from maize and the first plants overexpressing tgz are available (Nicotiana tabacum TGZ OE). Our hypothesis is that the overexpression of plastidal transglutaminase will alter photosynthesis via increased polyamination of the antenna of photosystem II. We have used standard analytical tools to separate the antenna from photosystem II in wild type and modified plants, 6 specific antibodies against LHCbs to confirm their presence and sensitive HPLC method to quantify the polyamination level of these proteins. We report that bound spermidine and spermine were significantly increased (∼80%) in overexpressors. Moreover, we used recent advances in in vivo probing to study simultaneously the proton and electron circuit of thylakoids. Under physiological conditions overexpressors show a 3-fold higher sensitivity of the antenna down regulation loop (qE) to the elicitor (luminal protons) which is estimated as the ΔpH component of thylakoidal proton motive force. In addition, photosystem (hyper-PSIIα) with an exceptionally high antenna (large absorption cross section), accumulate in transglutaminase over expressers doubling the rate constant of light energy utilization (Kα) and promoting thylakoid membrane stacking. Polyamination of antenna proteins is a previously unrecognized mechanism for the modulation of the size (antenna absorption cross section) and sensitivity of photosystem II to down regulation. Future research will reveal which peptides and which residues of the antenna are responsible for such effects.

Concepts: DNA, Photosynthesis, Protein, Cell, Plastid, Eukaryote, Organelle, Chloroplast


Lipid rafts in eukaryotic cells are sphingolipid and cholesterol-rich, ordered membrane regions that have been postulated to play roles in many membrane functions, including infection. We previously demonstrated the existence of cholesterol-lipid-rich domains in membranes of the prokaryote, B. burgdorferi, the causative agent of Lyme disease [LaRocca et al. (2010) Cell Host & Microbe 8, 331-342]. Here, we show that these prokaryote membrane domains have the hallmarks of eukaryotic lipid rafts, despite lacking sphingolipids. Substitution experiments replacing cholesterol lipids with a set of sterols, ranging from strongly raft-promoting to raft-inhibiting when mixed with eukaryotic sphingolipids, showed that sterols that can support ordered domain formation are both necessary and sufficient for formation of B. burgdorferi membrane domains that can be detected by transmission electron microscopy or in living organisms by Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET). Raft-supporting sterols were also necessary and sufficient for formation of high amounts of detergent resistant membranes from B. burgdorferi. Furthermore, having saturated acyl chains was required for a biotinylated lipid to associate with the cholesterol-lipid-rich domains in B. burgdorferi, another characteristic identical to that of eukaryotic lipid rafts. Sterols supporting ordered domain formation were also necessary and sufficient to maintain B. burgdorferi membrane integrity, and thus critical to the life of the organism. These findings provide compelling evidence for the existence of lipid rafts and show that the same principles of lipid raft formation apply to prokaryotes and eukaryotes despite marked differences in their lipid compositions.

Concepts: Archaea, Bacteria, Organism, Eukaryote, Organelle, Prokaryote, Lipid raft, Spirochaete