015 Bacterial Magnificence with Jean-Marie Volland


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Dr Jean-Marie Volland is a scientist at the Laboratory for Research in Complex Systems and an affiliate scientist at the Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute. He is also the lead author on a recent research paper that announced the discovery of something that most people, including biologists, had scarcely thought possible: a gigantic bacterium which is thousands of times larger than its fellow microbes – so large, in fact, that it can be seen with the naked eye.

In this conversation, KMO and Jean-Marie discuss:

  • 01:50 – Thiomargarita Magnifica and its discovery
  • 05:05 – Geography refresher
  • 06:25 – JM's stumbling into biology
  • 10:20 – Etymological remarks
  • 10:55 – Sulfur-eating lifeforms and KMO's mammalian privilege
  • 13:15 – Bug size competition
  • 13:55 – The three-domain classification (Eukarya, Archaea, Bacteria)
  • 16:45 – Taxonomy of the living forms
  • 18:38 – Reproduction and evolution
  • 22:13 – T. magnifica's unusual structure (with a brief mention of Anton Petrov's YouTube videos)
  • 26:20 – Evolutionary advantages of being large
  • 30:00 – Cooperation and competition in the natural world and beyond (way beyond, including the economy); ramifications of this dichotomy; symbiosis, parasitism, and commensalism; why is symbiosis so abiding when its game-theoretical disadvantages are also evident?
  • 44:40 – JM's two closing take-home messages

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