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Bizarre Semi-Autonomous, Super-Small Microbes Discovered

Some of them live off other microbes at least some of the time.

Researchers have discovered some of the tiniest and weirdest microbes ever seen which are growing in a copper mine sludge that is as acidic as battery acid. These Archaea (the domain of life that groups together one-celled creatures) are rivaled in size only by a microbe that survives solely as a parasite attached to other cells.

Researchers discovered up to 10 percent of their specimens impaled on needle-like protuberances originating from another microbe, Thermoplasmatales. “It is really remarkable and suggests an interaction that has never been described before in nature," said Brett J. Baker of the University of California at Berkeley. The researchers suspect that the penetrating spines of Thermoplasmatales may mean that the microbes live off other microbes at least part of the time, unlike symbiotic organisms or parasites, which must always associate with other organisms to live.

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