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It is a new 'Bac' on the block

By Annapoorna Prabhu     May 3, 2012 in Science
Paris - A new strain of cyanobacteria has been discovered in the partially scorched waters of Lake Alchichica in Mexico. The bacteria are believed to be unique since they produce a unique endoskeleton comprising of calcified lumpy granules.
Cyanobacteria, that process their own food by photosynthesis, predate themselves as far back as 3.5 billion years and have the notoriety of being the oldest fossils on earth. Also known as blue-green algae, Cyanobacteria have had great influence in changing earth’s atmosphere from hostile and uninhabitable to the organic environment that it is today. Today’s plant life finds its origin in these cyanobacteria. Some cyanobacteria are capable of forming calcified granules on the outside of the cell, counting those that grow on stromatolites (pillar like formation of sediment and microbes found in shallow waters). These stromatolites are known date back as far as 3.5 billion years.
These bacteria are the discovery of a team of scientists who were studying stromatolites from the shallow waters of the lake. Known as the Candidatus Gloeomargarita lithophora; they are distinctive in the fact that they form calcified crystal-like granules on the inside of the cell instead of outside. In their thesis geobiologist Karim Benzerara, along with his team of scientists, speculate that this particular strain is a branch of an ancient line of cyanobacteria called Gloeobacterales. They also hypothesize that since the skeleton is in the interior and not on the exterior, it is explainable why there is a lag in between their appearance and the oldest fossils found.
As per the thesis proposed by the scientists at The National Centre for Scientific Research the granules formed within the cell are primarily a composition of minerals like calcium, strontium, barium, magnesium and carbonate. Since this composition is different from that found in the adjoining waters they believe that this endoskeleton is formulated by the bacterium itself and is constantly transferring vital ingredients within the cell. Robert Riding of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville states in a comment in 27th April issue of Science “It’s interesting and opens up varied prospects, we hadn’t thought about before,”
The researchers are yet to tell if these granules formed within the cyanobacteria, dissolve leaving remnants after their death. Since these bacteria are the first of their kind and found only at a single location, it is difficult for the scientists to speculate the precise significance of the discovery. However they are hopeful that this find is going to be another feather in the cap of the ongoing process we call evolution.
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