Undergraduate helps discover new bacterium on way to Marine Biology degree

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Stuart Donachie, (808) 956-5336
Chair, Microbiology, College of Natural Sciences
Posted: Dec 8, 2015

Stuart Donachie
Stuart Donachie

A UH Mānoa undergraduate who conducted a research project on her way to earning a bachelor of science degree in 2014 in Marine Biology was instrumental in the discovery of a spiral-shaped bacterium that is the only known representative of a new genus and species. 

Alumna Vanessa K. Zepeda, 30, is the lead author of a paper published in the current issue of the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology.  She worked with advisor Stuart Donachie, chair of the Department of Microbiology in the College of Natural Sciences, on research that led to the discovery and cultivation of the bacterium named Terasakiispira papahanaumokuakeensis, which reflects its origin in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

“The spiral-shaped bacterium grown from a pond on the Pearl and Hermes Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands is the only known representative of a new genus and species,” explained Donachie.  “The species is distinct from those in related genera because of the conditions it requires for growth, such as the presence of salt, its biochemical profile, and through the composition of its DNA.  This discovery is another example of the novelty that occurs even among microbes in Hawaiʻi.”

The cells are spirals, and are quite unusual because they have flagella at each end.  Flagella are what the cell uses to move. For a link to a video of the swimming cells of the new species, see https://vimeo.com/141239904.

The paper may be viewed at http://ijs.microbiologyresearch.org/content/journal/ijsem/10.1099/ijsem.0.000438.

For more information, visit: http://www.hawaii.edu/microbiology/