A Walk Through Time

Joint Ventures

2700 Million Years Ago

Special joint ventures occur in communities of mixed populations. A sluggish, ancient fermenting bacterium and a small, swimming, spirochete-like bacterium may have formed a particularly brilliant partnership.

Spirochetes, speedsters of the microbial world, arrive quickly at food sources. Their corkscrew bodies move through seaside muds, the viscous insides of animals, and all around our gums. Spirochetes have neither head nor tail until they attach to something. Seeping a sticky substance, individuals and often groups easily tack directly onto a larger microbe.

The adhered spirochetes enjoy the microbe's byproducts in exchange for providing their partner with fast and easy transport toward food.

Top: Spirochetes are masters of movement, corkscrewing about with neither head nor tail. (Photograpgh by Lyn Margulis)

Bottom: This contemporary protist, Trichonympha, is pushed through its viscous termite hindgut habitat by thousands of symbiotic spirochete bacteria attaching at the rear. (Photography by David Chase)

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