Short peptide induces an 'uncultivable' microorganism to grow in vitro


Microorganisms comprise the bulk of biodiversity, but only a small fraction of this diversity grows on artificial media. This phenomenon was noticed almost a century ago, repeatedly confirmed, and termed the 'great plate count anomaly.' Advances in microbial cultivation improved microbial recovery but failed to explain why most microbial species do not grow in vitro. Here we show that at least some of such species can form domesticated variants capable of growth on artificial media. We also present evidence that small signaling molecules, such as short peptides, may be essential factors in initiating growth of nongrowing cells. We identified one 5-amino-acid peptide, LQPEV, that at 3.5 nM induces the otherwise 'uncultivable' strain Psychrobacter sp. strain MSC33 to grow on standard media. This demonstrates that the restriction preventing microbial in vitro growth may be different from those offered to date to explain the 'great plate count anomaly,' such as deficiencies in nutrient composition and concentrations in standard media, medium toxicity, and inappropriate incubation time. Growth induction of MSC33 illustrates that some microorganisms do not grow in vitro because they are removed from their native communities and the signals produced therein. 'Uncultivable' species represent the largest source of unexplored biodiversity, and provide remarkable opportunities for both basic and applied research. Access to cultures of some of these species should be possible through identification of the signaling compounds necessary for growth, their addition to standard medium formulations, and eventual domestication.

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