Your Future Favorite Sci-Fi Horror Movie Will Star Soil Bacteria.

Fruiting body of Myxococcus xanthus (Picture: Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology)

Fruiting body of Myxococcus xanthus (Picture: Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology)

Screenplay writers looking for the next sci-fi blockbuster should look to soil microbes for inspiration, especially the very horrific bacterium Myxococcus xanthus.  Far different than peacenik single-celled bacteria we all learned about in school, M. xanthus is a social bacterium that communicates and organizes itself into multi-cellular, three dimensional structures made up of thousands of cells that hunt for food and survive harsh conditions together.   Like a wolf pack, the structure travels through topsoil as one unit searching for prey.  When the structure encounters potential prey, it works as a group to secrete powerful enzymes into the environment to kill and digest the prey outside the structure before drawing in the digested nutrients.  According to Rice University scientist Oleg Igoshin, these enzymes are potent antibiotics that kill other species and chew up prey proteins into small segments.  Check out this microscopic video showing 100,000 cells of M. xanthus digesting 10 million cells of E. coli.

Imagine if we saw this social-self-assembly-enzyme-spewing behavior exhibited by large animals that are familiar to us?  Freaky!  And M. xanthus is just one out of 10,000 to 50,000 microbe species contained in just one teaspoon of soil.  Soil is amazingly complex and so much more than the dirt that holds up our corn and soybean plants.  It’s a living, breathing, violent ecosystem and one we still know relatively little about.  In my opinion, soil’s complexity and humanity’s lack of knowledge calls for caution in soil treatment.  For our farm, we’re exercising caution through little to no tillage and no “cides” (pesticides, fungicides).  Best to leave it alone and let all the freaky microbes do their jobs.

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