Microbiology Today August 2001

Micro-organisms are amazingly diverse. Some types are like green plants and they can use the energy from light to make simple compounds, thus playing a vital part in food chains and Earth's life cycles. These phototrophs require pigment to carry out the biochemical process and so, unlike most microbes which are colourless, they are visible when present in large numbers. In this issue of Microbiology Today we focus on these highly photogenic and varied organisms.

Phototrophic microbes were discovered about a hundred years ago. Sam Kaplan (University of Texas) looks back on the pioneering studies on phototroph physiology and biochemistry and looks at our present state of knowledge of microbial photosynthetic systems and ecology. Modern molecular biology techniques have led to great advances and now, as we move into the era of genomics, he considers the potential for research in years to come.

Large populations of purple and green sulfur bacteria exist in lakes and marine environments worldwide. The diversity and ecology of these anaerobic photosynthetic microbes are described by Jorge Overmann (University of Munich), with many new species now being discovered by 16S rRNA sequencing which cannot be cultured in the lab by conventional methods. He also covers the latest researches into the photosynthetic process of these bacteria and discusses model systems for symbiosis research.

How do purple photosynthetic bacteria harvest light? Richard Cogdell and Alistair Gardiner (University of Glasgow) reveal the complexities of this process.

Cyanobacteria are aerobic photosynthetic bacteria, which seem to have been one of the earliest forms of microbes in the history of Earth, with a fossil record going back 3.5 billion years. They played a vital role in the formation of life on our planet and today are still major players in our ecosystems. Dave Scanlan (University of Warwick) describes their diversity shows how some of them, including 'the most abundant photosynthetic organism on Earth', are responsible for keeping global carbon cycles turning.

David Adams (University of Leeds) also focuses on cyanobacteria, but he is fascinated by how they move. The mechanisms of the gliding process are now becoming better understood.

Lichens are an amazing example of symbiosis. The complexities of this partnership between algae and fungi is described by David Hill (University of Bristol), who also shows how lichens have an important function as indicators of environmental pollution. It may well be possible to exploit this as a tool in the fight to help the human race survive the next century on Earth.

Down Under, Australian researchers are learning how to harness the natural defence mechanisms of seaweed against harmful bacteria in the fight against marine fouling of ships and other underwater surfaces. This fascinating research by Staffan Kjelleberg and Peter Steinberg (University of New South Wales) is part of an on-going investigation into biofilm inhibition.

Moving away from phototrophs, but not from seaweed, Philip Mortimer (Colindale) takes a look back into the days of the early microbiologists and shows how an algal by-product - agar - came into use in the culturing of bacteria.

On a different subject altogether, Peter Wyn-Jones looks at the benefits of a career in microbiology and Jane Westwell summarizes some of the recent career-related activities SGM has been involved in.

Hot off the Press [Acrobat PDF] highlights some new developments in microbiological research published in the Society's journals - Microbiology, Journal of General Virology and International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology. Topics covered include:
  • Answer to a wee problem - gene cluster involved in oil degradation
  • Enter the cell - insight into the dengue virus cell entry mechanism
  • Blunting the chopper - producing growth-restricted dengue virus
  • Fussy guests - co-evolution of bacteria and hosts
  • Letting go of the apron strings - control of daughter cell budding in yeast
  • Cracking the Whipple - Whipple's disease bacterium finally identified

Other items include:

Last updated 29 May 2003