Certain nectar-dwelling bacteria can induce pollen to germinate to access their tasty proteins!
Microbe of the episode
Microbe of the episode: Clostridium oceanicum
Nectar in flowers seems like it would be a great place for microbes to live, since it has so much sugar, but it's actually somewhat difficult to thrive solely in and on nectar. The carbon in sugar is only one essential element for life, and there's enough of it that it can be overwhelming to the osmotic balance of many microbes. Pollen could provide more nutrients in the form of protein and the nitrogen that comes with it, but it is difficult to penetrate its hard shell.
In this study, certain kinds of bacteria that live in nectar were able to access more pollen protein than other microbes by inducing pollen to germinate, growing out of its shell, or burst and release the protein directly. These microbes only benefited from pollen that were still alive and able to germinate, and not from those that had been disabled.
Christensen SM, Munkres I, Vannette RL. 2021. Nectar bacteria stimulate pollen germination and bursting to enhance microbial fitness. Curr Biol 31:4373-4380.e6.
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