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Mariana Trench: The mysterious magnetic microbes lead to a new evolution

Mariana Trench: The mysterious magnetic microbes lead to a new evolution

In the Mariana Trench in 2018 a researcherscouring the seabed to understand more about the origin of the Earth, he found a tiny organism with a shell attached to the instrument. The creature was a foraminifer called Resigella bilocularis. Like other foraminifera, R. bilocularis is a unicellular shell builder. But unlike most foraminifera found on the ocean floor, this one has an unexpected trick: it is magnetic.

Many organisms such as certain bacteria, algae, mollusks, birds and even mammals have this magnetic affinity. It is thought that many of them receive their powers from the mineral magnetite, which helps them orient themselves and navigate the magnetic fields of the Earth. Other organisms, on the other hand, would seem to produce magnetite by themselves, using the iron that is present in their environment. However for the organism found in these waters, magnetite still remains a mystery.

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Magnetic microbes discovered in the waters of the Mariana Trench

While it can’t yet say for sure, the study suggests this organism is producing magnetite by itself. If so, since R. bilocularis is the first magnetic unicellular eukaryote found so deep in the ocean, learning more about its magnetism could bring researchers closer to untangle the evolutionary history of this trait. The chemical and physical structure of magnetite in R. bilocularis differs from magnetite in the surrounding sediment and from that produced by bacteria, suggesting that the foraminifera are self-building.

Obviously studying these magnetic microbes in the laboratory is somewhat difficult, but the study aims to do so. The team is currently working to keep foraminifera alive in the laboratory for sequencing its genome. It is not known that much magnetite is produced. Studying something from a potentially ancient deep-sea environment could help understand how the ability to produce magnetite evolved in the first place.

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay