Dormant microbes are less like zombies and more like hibernating bears. What isn’t known, however, is how large numbers of dormant microorganisms affect the natural environments when they act as microbial seed banks.
In the current issue of Nature Reviews: Microbiology, Jay Lennon, Michigan State University assistant professor of microbiology and molecular genetics, examines the cellular mechanisms that allow microbes to hibernate and addresses the implications they can have on larger ecosystems such as soil, oceans, lakes and the human body.
“Only a tiny fraction is metabolically active at any given time,” said Lennon, who is affiliated with MSU’s Kellogg Biological Station and MSU’s AgBioResearch. “How would our environment be altered, in terms of carbon emissions, nutrient cycling and greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide, by dramatic increases or decreases in the dormancy of microbes?”
Dormancy is a reversible state of low metabolic activity that organisms enter when they encounter hard times, such as freezing temperatures or starvation. Unlike plants that follow predictable growth cycles, microbes don’t have to follow a linear progression. They could be growing, experience distress and go back to sleep. Once conditions change, they could start growing again without having to go through a full cycle.
“However, it does take a certain level of commitment, a certain energy investment to make it happen,” Lennon said. “Just as people don’t run out and winterize their homes if it gets cool in August, microbes want to be sure that truly hard times have set in before shifting into a dormant phase.”
Consider that 90 percent of soil microorganisms are typically dormant and only half of bacterial species are active. Lennon and his co-author, Stuart Jones at the University of Notre Dame, theorize that dormancy and the presence of such large reservoirs of microbial “seed banks” have important implications for biodiversity and the stability and functioning of ecosystem services.
“The idea of a microbial seed bank is a rather novel concept, but from our research we found that dormancy and seed banks are prevalent in most ecosystems.” Lennon said. “What’s fascinating is that there’s only a small fraction that are active, which means there’s a large reservoir that could potentially be activated at any given time.”
Dormancy and the seed bank effect make microbes more resilient and could play key roles in microbial biodiversity as species migrate or simply remain mostly dormant over extended periods, he added. Dormancy could also help explain the sudden outbreak of diseases, he said, perhaps sparked by some change in the environment.
“One-third of world’s population carries dormant tuberculosis microbes,” he said. “Obviously, you can live a long time with the dormant cell in your body, but it’s important to understand what can trigger its reanimation or what maintains its dormancy.”
As Lennon continues his research, he is particularly interested in identifying the triggers of dormancy and activation cycles as well as how climate change affects these processes.
Lennon’s research is funded in part by the National Science Foundation.
Michigan State University has been working to advance the common good in uncommon ways for more than 150 years. One of the top research universities in the world, MSU focuses its vast resources on creating solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges, while providing life-changing opportunities to a diverse and inclusive academic community through more than 200 programs of study in 17 degree-granting colleges.
Layne Cameron | EurekAlert!
More genes are active in high-performance maize
19.01.2018 | Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn
How plants see light
19.01.2018 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau
On the way to an intelligent laboratory, physicists from Innsbruck and Vienna present an artificial agent that autonomously designs quantum experiments. In initial experiments, the system has independently (re)discovered experimental techniques that are nowadays standard in modern quantum optical laboratories. This shows how machines could play a more creative role in research in the future.
We carry smartphones in our pockets, the streets are dotted with semi-autonomous cars, but in the research laboratory experiments are still being designed by...
What enables electrons to be transferred swiftly, for example during photosynthesis? An interdisciplinary team of researchers has worked out the details of how...
For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.
Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...
At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.
No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...
Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) and Tohoku University have developed high-quality GFO epitaxial films and systematically investigated their ferroelectric and ferromagnetic properties. They also demonstrated the room-temperature magnetocapacitance effects of these GFO thin films.
Multiferroic materials show magnetically driven ferroelectricity. They are attracting increasing attention because of their fascinating properties such as...
08.01.2018 | Event News
11.12.2017 | Event News
08.12.2017 | Event News
19.01.2018 | Materials Sciences
19.01.2018 | Health and Medicine
19.01.2018 | Physics and Astronomy