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Bony Bacteria

Scientists have discovered skeletons in the cyanobacterial closet. A never-before-seen species of cyanobacterium loads its cells with little bonelike lumps that may act as ballast, helping to anchor the beastie in its home waters of a Mexican lake. The discovery, described in the April 27 Science, is the first report of such a microbe creating calcified structures inside its cells, rather than externally.

Scientists aren’t sure what to make of the discovery. Related cyanobacteria play a major role in the planet’s geochemical cycles. “It’s interesting and opens up possibilities we hadn’t thought about before,” says Robert Riding of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, who wrote a comment on the research in the same issue of Science. Because the microbe is the first of its kind, and so far, has been found in only one place, “it’s difficult to know where it will lead,” Riding says.

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