AUG 11, 2020 8:20 AM PDT

A New Microbe is Discovered in an 'Unnatural' Environment

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Humans have changed their environments in sometimes drastic ways. While we can exert a degree of control over our surroundings, we still share the world and even our own bodies with microbes that have colonized the habitats we've made. Now scientists have identified a new bacterium that can be commonly found in human-created environments - in this case, it was collected from solar panels on Harvard University's Arnold Arboretum. The microbe has been reported in the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology.

Image credit: Public domain pictures

"Every time we throw up panels, every time we create new surfaces, not only are there things that can exploit them like this new species, but you shouldn't expect that evolution isn't going to happen and create things that better exploit them over time," said Arboretum Director William "Ned" Friedman. "In urban ecosystems, one might even anticipate that there are accelerated aspects of evolution because you're presenting nature with new challenges or opportunities."

This serves as a reminder that the natural world still persists even in environments that aren't traditionally considered natural, noted Friedman.

This bacterium, Sphingomonas solaris, is characterized by colorful pigments, and it loves high temperatures, solar radiation, nutrient restriction, and desiccation.

Visiting graduate student Kristie Tanner from the University of Valencia found the microbe during an afternoon trip to the solar array. The panels were sampled with sterile swabs and bacterial genes were assessed in the lab of Ahmad Khalil, a visiting scholar at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and a Boston University biomedical engineering professor. Forty different species of bacteria were found, and one of them carried a bacterial marker, a 16S gene, that was different from any that have ever been cataloged.

"It was a big surprise," Tanner said. "I've been doing bioprospecting for five years, studying bacteria in these weird and wonderful environments, and I said, 'This could be a new species.'"

Tanner and Friedman suggested that this new species might have moved to where they found it from the soil nearby. It's a member of the Sphingomonas genus, which was first identified in 1990 and has at least 120 members. Some of these microbes could be useful in helping to remove heavy metals from the environment.

Learn more about how environments that are created by people have uniquely adapted communities of microbes within them from the videos. The one above is by

NASA, while the one below was made by the University of Oregon.

Sources: Phys.org via Harvard University, International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
AUG 26, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Viral Infection Can Have a Lasting Impact on Cells
AUG 26, 2021
Viral Infection Can Have a Lasting Impact on Cells
When a virus infects a cell, it usually takes over the cell's machinery to start churning out viral particles, which are ...
SEP 20, 2021
Microbiology
Antibiotics and Viruses Team Up to Kill Drug-Resistant Bugs
SEP 20, 2021
Antibiotics and Viruses Team Up to Kill Drug-Resistant Bugs
Before antibiotics became a common treatment for infections, researchers considered using viruses that infect bacteria, ...
SEP 30, 2021
Cancer
Gut Microbiota Influences Colon Cancer Development
SEP 30, 2021
Gut Microbiota Influences Colon Cancer Development
The gut microbiome consists of all the microorganisms living in an individual’s digestive system. Various factors ...
OCT 13, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
The Nobel Prize in Chemistry
OCT 13, 2021
The Nobel Prize in Chemistry
It's Nobel Prize season, and the third to be awarded was in the field of Chemistry. The winners were two men working on ...
OCT 15, 2021
Health & Medicine
Over Half of Patients Infected in the Pandemic Experience 'Long COVID'
OCT 15, 2021
Over Half of Patients Infected in the Pandemic Experience 'Long COVID'
About 236 million people are known to have been infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVD-19. Researchers hav ...
OCT 22, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
Studying the Evolution of SARS-CoV-2 in One Patient Over 324 Days
OCT 22, 2021
Studying the Evolution of SARS-CoV-2 in One Patient Over 324 Days
To clear a viral infection, the human body has to mount an effective immune response. After detecting the pathogen, immu ...
Loading Comments...