Natures wonders: doubly helpful symbiosis (Introduction)

by David Turell @, Monday, September 21, 2015, 14:07 (1611 days ago) @ David Turell

There are bacteria living in mussels that both feed the mussels and produce toxins that probably protect them from parasites:

"Mussels of the genus Bathymodiolus, related to the well-known blue mussel, are among the most dominant inhabitants of hot vents in the deep ocean. In their gills, they house so-called chemoautrotrophic symbionts. These symbionts include sulfur-oxidizing bacteria, which convert substances normally not used by the mussels into tasty sugars.

"Jillian Petersen and her colleagues have now taken a closer look at the genes that some of the symbiotic tenants of deep-sea mussels contain in their genomes. To their surprise, what they found was a vast array of hazardous substances. The symbiotic bacteria command an arsenal of genes that are responsible for the production of toxins. The number of toxins is impressive: With up to 60 toxins, the microorganism's arsenal is better stocked than many nasty germs such as those that cause pest and cholera. However, down in the deep sea, the bacteria leave their host unharmed. In fact, they promote the health of their mussel hosts. How is this possible?

"'We suspect that they bacteria have tamed these toxins", explains Petersen. "Thus, they can now take advantage of them for the benefit their host." Two kinds of beneficial effects of the toxins are possible: On the one hand, they might help mussels and bacteria to find and to recognize each other, essential steps to establishing a successful symbiosis. On the other hand, the toxins may help the mussel to defend itself against parasites."

Explanatory just-so story: Humans are loaded with helpful bacterial, and it appears that all organisms have their helpers. One day the bacteria got into some mussels by accident. But they make tasty sugars so they were welcomed. However, incidentally the bacteria carried with them some antibiotic materials to protect themselves, but didn't bother the mussels, just as antibiotics are fine with us. Gradually the bacteria improved their toxins with a mutation or two and led to the current findings. No dabble for God needed.

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