Skip to main content
Premium Trial:

Request an Annual Quote

Call of the 'Wild' Bacteria

The Richmond Mine in California hardly a relaxing vacation spot — its caverns can reach nearly 120 degrees Fahrenheit and 100 percent humidity, there's little oxygen, and its water is some of the most acidic anywhere on the planet, says Ed Yong at Not Exactly Rocket Science. And yet, researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, have been visting the mine for years to study the "wild" bacteria that thrive in such harsh conditions. "Bacteria grow within the cave, floating in thin films on top of its hot, acidic water," Yong says. "They are the lords of their extreme world, and they provide an unrivalled opportunity to study how wild microbes evolve."

In a recent study published in Science, Berkeley's Jillian Banfield and Vincent Denef describe the mine's bacterial ecosystem, which is ruled by a strain of Leptospirillum. There are only a few other species there, and those that come in from the outside usually die, Yong says. This makes the community small, well-defined, and self-contained, which makes it ideal for observing the evolution of the extreme bacteria without fear of outside contamination, he adds.

The researchers found that, "on average, the bacteria accrued 1.4 mutations in every billion DNA letters, each generation. That's near the top end of what people estimated based on lab experiments," Yong says. "Denef and Banfield’s study shows just how quickly wild bacteria can evolve. By fusing their genomes together, they can diverge greatly in just a matter of years, and rapidly adapt to environmental changes."

The Scan

Booster for At-Risk

The New York Times reports that the US Food and Drug Administration has authorized a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech SARS-CoV-2 vaccine for people over 65 or at increased risk.

Preprints OK to Mention Again

Nature News reports the Australian Research Council has changed its new policy and now allows preprints to be cited in grant applications.

Hundreds of Millions More to Share

The US plans to purchase and donate 500 million additional SARS-CoV-2 vaccine doses, according to the Washington Post.

Nature Papers Examine Molecular Program Differences Influencing Neural Cells, Population History of Polynesia

In Nature this week: changes in molecular program during embryonic development leads to different neural cell types, and more.