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'Dark matter' of life: Mysterious bacteria sequenced

The genome of mysterious bacteria that lurk in hospital drains has been sequenced.

Low levels of the bacteria, known only as candidate phylum TM6, have been found in water systems around the world, yet because they could not be cultured in the lab, almost nothing was known about them.

The new research, detailed Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could be the first step in understanding exactly what these bacteria do, said study co-author Jeffrey McLean, a microbial geneticist at the J. Craig Venter Institute in La Jolla, Calif.

"They're this dark matter of life," McLean said. "We keep seeing them, but we don't have any other information about them. We don't know what they're doing in the environment. It could range from being beneficial to being harmful."

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