Researchers sequence genome of mysterious candidate phylum TM6 bacteria

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Posted June 12, 2013
Summary of genera found in the biofilm sample from single and multievent sorts. Credit: (c)2013 PNAS, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1219809110

Summary of genera found in the biofilm sample from single and multievent sorts. Credit: (c)2013 PNAS, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1219809110

Researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute have succeeded in sequencing the genome of a mysterious type of bacteria known only by its status—candidate phylum TM6. The sample sequenced, the team reports in their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was found in a sink drain in a hospital.


Scientists know that there are a lot of bacteria in the world that have yet to be discovered. Sometimes all they show are evidence of where they’ve been, leading some to call them the “dark matter” of life. One of these, currently dubbed candidate phylum TM6 (first discovered in 1996) is suspecting of living in treated water systems all around the world—since they can’t be grown in a lab, scientists don’t know if they are harmful, helpful or neither. They tend to leave behind evidence of their existence in drains and showerheads, so that’s where the researchers looked after setting up a means of examining them.

They found their sample in the form of a biofilm in a sink drain in a public restroom in a hospital. It was of course one of many bacteria in the sample which meant it had to be separated from the others first using fluorescent tagging. The resulting clean sample held single cells clinging together which the researchers pulled apart allowing them to extract individual DNA. The DNA from the bacteria was then compared with DNA from other known bacteria—that helped to rule out the possibility that it was something else, and also in sequencing its genome.

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