Epstei GalleryWhat you see to the left may look like a giant dehydry­ated cocroach over­grown with some form of alien kudzoo, but in fact it’s a microbe only a few microns long. That’s a frac­tion of the thick­ness of a human hair.

Slava Epstein of the the depart­ment of biology found this little guy in the Cariaco Basin in the Caribbean off the coast of Venezuela. Epstein and his team work to reveal the genetics of this and other so-​​called “marine cil­li­ates” to find out what makes them so good at living on the oxygen-​​poor sea floor.

Cil­li­ates are a type of microbe, which, according to Epstein, are very well studied in the micro­bial research world. The cil­liate shown here belongs to a group that Epstein believes is an entirely new class. This is impor­tant because it adds to the ever expanding bio­di­ver­sity of the “micro­biome,” which is what sci­en­tists call the col­lec­tive gazil­lion (that’s an esti­mate on my part) microbes on the planet.

Microbes are the largest and most diverse pop­u­la­tion of species around and under­standing them can lead to insights as far reaching as dis­ease, evo­lu­tion, and life on mars — to name a few.

One of the over­ar­ching goals of the Epstein lab is to begin clas­si­fying the extent of bio­di­ver­sity present in the micro­biome. The ocean floor is just a beginning.


Photo Cour­tesy of William Orsi, 2009