Soil Microbes

Stinky molecules undermine competitors

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Science  12 Apr 2019:
Vol. 364, Issue 6436, pp. 142-143
DOI: 10.1126/science.364.6436.142-d

Wild-type and mutant Streptomyces venezuelae cultures growing on an agar medium

CREDIT: S. JONES ET AL., MBIO 10, E00171-19 (2019)

Soil bacteria produce several earthy and unpleasant-smelling compounds, but for what reason? The filamentous bacterium Streptomyces venezuelae is known to both produce and respond to fishy trimethylamine as a volatile signaling molecule. Jones et al. found that airborne trimethylamine from S. venezuelae reduced growth and survival of other microbes growing nearby. This effect was reversed by iron supplementation, suggesting a role for trimethylamine in making iron less available to competing bacteria, likely by increasing the local pH. S. venezuelae may compensate for the unhospitable environment it has created by secreting iron-chelating compounds to recover recalcitrant iron.

mBio 10, e00171-19 (2019).

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