Profile – Proteobacteria


Proteobacteria is a major phylum in the bacteria domain, with over 1,300 named species. The name ‘proteo’ was derived from Proteus, the Greek god of the ocean who could shapeshift into any creature to avoid being found. Thus, the name Proteus was incorporated to form Proteobacteria, which reflects the diverse shapes and sizes of bacteria species that belong in this group.

Initially, proteobacteria were named ‘purple bacteria and relatives’ by Carl Woese in 1987. This was because several bacteria in this group were able to perform photosynthesis, which produced a purplish hue. This colourful name was abandoned later because there were more ‘relatives’ than actual ‘purple bacteria’.

It’s impossible to explain all the sorts of Proteobacteria around us. Some can survive in extremely harsh environments, such as deep underground or within glacial ice, where-as, others can only thrive in nutrient rich habitats. Some Proteobacteria can create their own food by photosynthesising (like plants), while others need to ‘eat’ to gain energy (like animals). Some need oxygen, but to others, oxygen is like poison.

The Proteobacteria phylum is so large that chances are you already recognise some Proteobacteria. For example, Escherichia (better known as E. coli) and Salmonella are Proteobacteria commonly associated with food poisoning. Another well-known Proteobacteria is Helicobacter pylori, which was found to cause stomach ulcers and cancers – a discovery made by Western Australia’s own Nobel Prize winners, Professor Barry Marshall and Professor Robin Warren.

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Bacterial profiles: Proteobacteria | Actinobacteria | Acidobacteria | Tenericutes | Firmicutes