Exciting instances of cooperation among organisms are all around us, such as fish cooperation in the ocean, or cooperation between plants or insects in the jungles. But what about looking closer to home and on a much smaller scale? A recent study led by Katarzyna Turnau at Jagiellonian University in Poland observed an extraordinary instance of cooperation between bacteriophages, bacteria, and fungi in order to kill their prey rotifers in sludge from a wastewater treatment plant.
Using light and electron microscopy, the recent study found four main players: 1) fungi with long outstretched and curly structures known as hyphae, 2) bacteria attached to these hyphae, 3) bacteriophages (viruses of bacteria) attached to the bacteria, and 4) rotifers, very tiny animals that live anywhere with freshwater, that got stuck on hyphae traps and died (Figure 1).
The fungi, bacteria, and bacteriophages work together to trap and kill the rotifers. First, the bacteria go in and out of these hyphae structures and release external DNA to produce sticky traps on the hyphae. Once the rotifer gets stuck on a trap, some of the fungi’s hyphae will enter the rotifer and release the bacteria attached to it. The bacteria then use DNA from the bacteriophage to produce enzymes or toxins that can degrade and kill the rotifer for food.
So, if you ever wanted a story for a new sci-fi film, you don’t have to go far — just grab a microscope and watch a fascinating story unfold. To improve our understanding of this cooperative act, the researchers want to next determine if the bacteria can actually live in the fungi, if the sticky DNA actually immobilizes the rotifer, and which enzymes and toxins specifically kill the rotifer. Beyond just exploring the unknown, this research is important because some of the microorganisms like the fungi or rotifers can cause problems in the wastewater treatment process or water reservoirs respectively. By better understanding the specific interactions of these organisms, we can better control and improve wastewater treatment.
Katarzyna Turnau is a professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Jagiellonian University in Poland. She studies fungi and how they can help bioremediate certain environments.
Managing Correspondent: Jenny Zheng
Press Release: Sciencemag.org
Original Article: International Journal of Molecular Sciences
Image Credits: Pixabay