Filamentous sulfide-oxidizing bacteria at hydrocarbon seeps of the Gulf of Mexico

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Mats consisting of the large sulfide-oxidizing bacterium, Beggiatoa, were collected from the sediment/water interface at several locations in the Gulf of Mexico. The collection sites were associated with the presence of petroleum hydrocarbons or the microbial breakdown products of the hydrocarbons. The morphologies of the mats varied with the nature of the underlying sediments, and some mats were pigmented either yellow or orange instead of the usual white. At one site, beggiatoas were found that had a diameter of nearly 200 μm, making them the largest prokaryotic organism known. In filaments with a diameter of over approximately 10 μm the cytoplasm was restricted to a thin layer immediately underlying the cell membrane, and the majority of the cell consisted of a vacuole with unknown contents. Beggiatoa filaments often rotated as they moved by gliding. Parallel rows of 15 nm diameter pores were found on the surface of the beggiatoas. The pores may have been wound in a spiral fashion around the cell. These pores may be involved in the gliding motility of the bacteria by the motion imparted by the excretion of slime through the pores. Several structures with the typical morphology of prokaryotic cells but lacking a cell wall were found within the vacuolar and cytoplasmic portions of the hollow beggiatoas. Some of these internal 'symbionts' ultrastructurally resembled methanotrophic bacteria like those that have been seen in animals taken from vent areas. Other symbionts ultrastructurally resembled autotrophic bacteria with carboxysome-like structures. These internal symbionts may enable the Beggiatoa to grow in different environments on different carbon sources. They also provide important evidence for the endosymbiotic theory of the evolution of internal organelles of eukaryotic organisms.

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Microscopy Research and Technique

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