Huge Microbe's Value Lies In More Than Just Sheer Size

"Word's biggest bacterium found in a fish," declared the front- page headline in a March 1993 edition of USA Today, while the New York Times trumpeted its coverage with: "In the world of bacteria, a behemoth." Even the relatively staid science journals couldn't resist. Science announced the identification of "Monsters from the guts," and Nature's header read "Giant among the prokaryotes." The extraordinary flurry of interest--and imagery--was over an article in Nature (E.R. Angert, et al., 362:

Myrna Watanabe
Sep 5, 1993

"Word's biggest bacterium found in a fish," declared the front- page headline in a March 1993 edition of USA Today, while the New York Times trumpeted its coverage with: "In the world of bacteria, a behemoth." Even the relatively staid science journals couldn't resist. Science announced the identification of "Monsters from the guts," and Nature's header read "Giant among the prokaryotes."

The extraordinary flurry of interest--and imagery--was over an article in Nature (E.R. Angert, et al., 362:239-41, 1993) reporting the identification by microbiologist Norman R. Pace's laboratory at Indiana University in Bloomington of the largest bacterium yet known to science: Epulopiscium fisheloni.

The organism, a member of the Clostridium group of anaerobes, had been, according to the report, isolated from the intestine of the brown surgeonfish, Acanthurus nigrofuscus, and it is, indeed, big--up to 600mm long by 80mm in diameter. That translates, the Times reported, to "about the size...

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