Was browsing Twitter and I saw one post that caught my eye. @MicrobeWorld, which by the way, rocks, wrote
A microbe that is as old as dirt could one day help keep radioactive metals out of our drinking water http://bitly.com/15l9mR
This caught my eye because, well, I study radiation resistance some of the time and the “old as dirt” statement seemed weird.
The article being referred to was in the Columbus Dispatch (The Columbus Dispatch : Tricking toxins) and it was about some interesting work on Shewanella by Brian Lower and others from Ohio State. The work involves using one particular species of Shewanella for bioremediation of radiative waste. The problem however is in the lead in to the article. This is painful to me. It says
A microbe that is as old as dirt could one day help keep radioactive metals out of our drinking water.
Shewanella oneidensis bacteria have existed for billions of years, thriving even when the Earth’s atmosphere lacked oxygen.
This is just so so so wrong. Shewanella oneidensis is one species of a large group in the genus Shewanella which itself is part of one subgroup (the gamma group) of the Phylum Proteobacteria (I note I helped analyze the genome sequence of this species a few years ago – see paper here). While it is possible (though not certain) that the Phylum Proteobacteria was established billions of years ago, it is certain that Shewanella oneidensis did not exist at that time. Perhaps this species has been around for tens of millions of years but certainly not billions. This would be like saying “Humans have been around for hundreds of millions of years” simply because animals have been around for that long. In the context of humans the statement is clearly absurd. It is in fact equally absurd in the context of bacteria. And for this, the Columbus Dispatch is getting my third Twisted Tree of Life Award.