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Multicellular microorganisms: laboratory versus nature

Publication Date
  • Review Article
  • Biology
  • Ecology


Our present in-depth knowledge of the physiology and regulatory mechanisms of microorganisms has arisen from our ability to remove them from their natural, complex ecosystems into pure liquid cultures. These cultures are grown under optimized laboratory conditions and allow us to study microorganisms as individuals. However, microorganisms naturally grow in conditions that are far from optimal, which causes them to become organized into multicellular communities that are better protected against the harmful environment. Moreover, this multicellular existence allows individual cells to differentiate and acquire specific properties, such as forming resistant spores, which benefit the whole population. The relocation of natural microorganisms to the laboratory can result in their adaptation to these favourable conditions, which is accompanied by complex changes that include the repression of some protective mechanisms that are essential in nature. Laboratory microorganisms that have been cultured for long periods under optimized conditions might therefore differ markedly from those that exist in natural ecosystems.

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