Episode Summary

Bacteria in soil produce smells to attract arthropods that eat them but also spread their spores!

Microbe of the episode

Microbe of the episode: Blotched snakehead virus

Jesse's takeaways

Soil, especially after a rain, often has a characteristic "earthy" smell. This soil smell is actually the result of certain bacteria producing a volatile chemical called geosmin. Many geosmin producers are in the Streptomyces genus, which produces a large variety of interesting chemicals, but geosmin is one of the few that is nearly universal in the genus.
This study found that insect-like arthropods called springtails are attracted to geosmin. These animals usually feed on fungi, but they will also eat bacteria when available. Despite this result, the bacteria continue to produce the chemical, which is linked to their sporulation cycle. The study found that springtails carry intact bacterial spores to new places stuck to the insides and outsides of the animal, and this enhances the dispersal ability of the bacteria.


Research unearths the science behind the smell of spring

Journal Paper

Becher PG, Verschut V, Bibb MJ, Bush MJ, Molnár BP, Barane E, Al-Bassam MM, Chandra G, Song L, Challis GL, Buttner MJ, Flärdh K. 2020. Developmentally regulated volatiles geosmin and 2-methylisoborneol attract a soil arthropod to Streptomyces bacteria promoting spore dispersal. 6. Nat Microbiol 5:821–829.

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