Where would we be without bacteria? You might think we’d be healthier, for a start – but that’s not always the case! In fact, a lot of bacteria gets a bad rep. In fact – sorry, germophobic readers – bacteria is absolutely everywhere – and we can only do so much to combat it! In a climate where there is still so much misinformation regarding bacteria, viruses, and the like, it makes sense to reach out for a few facts every now and again.
Thankfully, that’s where we come in handy. Take a look through our stacks of interesting facts about bacteria below and find out more about the ‘invisible menace’. In fact, it’s less menacing than you might think.
Bacteria is found all over the world, in our bodies, and over all of the things that we wear and use from day to day. The fact is it is the rare ‘bad’ bacteria which often gets the label of a ‘germ’. It is simply impossible to live a life without coming into contact with some form of bacteria!
We don’t mean to scare anyone – but provide you continue to wash your hands and practice good everyday hygiene, there are no reasons why you’ll fall prey to anything nasty. Keep in mind that bacteria are different to viruses in many ways, too!
Bacteria are found all over the Earth and in all habitats, including all over the human body. Don’t get too scared – but yes, you are completely covered in bacteria. But not all of it is bad!
Bacteria come in several shapes, from rod shaped variants to round and spiral shapes.
Bacteria have only a single cell and are therefore the simplest form of life known.
Color-enhanced scanning electron micrograph showing Salmonella typhimurium (red) invading cultured human cells
Bacteria are, in fact, the oldest form of life on Earth. Therefore – they have as much of a right to be here as we do!
Bacteria are known to have lived for at last 3.5 million years. Does this make the planet rightfully theirs? Probably better off not asking!
Rest easy – most bacteria are so-called ‘good bacteria’, presenting no threat to survival. In fact, in many cases, these can actually help us.
In the human body there are ten times the number of good bacteria as there are other body cells.
Bacteria, good or bad, all serve useful purposes.
Measuring individually, at only a few micrometers, bacteria can cluster together to form what are called communities.
A diagram of a typical prokaryotic cell
Bacteria are known as ‘prokaryotes’ – that is, cells with no nucleus.
Cell walls alone will determine the precise shape of the bacteria.
A plasma membrane found inside the wall of the bacterial cell is responsible for transporting chemicals in and out.
The cell wall of bacteria is permeable, permitting fluids to flow through.
Hair-like attachments found in bacteria cells permit them to attach to surfaces. These are called ‘pili’.
Flagellum are used to propel bacteria forward. Some bacteria possess more than one flagellum. They need some way of getting around!
Cytoplasm, contained inside the membrane of bacteria, stores genetic material. Yes – even bacteria have DNA.
Ribosomes, which make proteins, are also stored within the cytoplasm of bacteria.
Bacteria survive and thrive in different ways. Autotrophic bacteria, for example, make their own food through processing. For example, this might be through photosynthesis using water and sunlight.
Chemosynthesis is a process involving carbon dioxide and water. This enables bacteria to survive. Chemoautotrophs, the bacteria that largely uses chemosynthesis, are found in ocean vents, as well as in the roots of some lentils, peas, beans, peanuts, and clover.
Cyanobacteria produce oxygen and are thought to have been a major contributor to the oxygen layer surrounding Earth.
Aerobic bacteria are so called as they can only live where oxygen exists. They affect the clarity of water and can cause problems such as metallic corrosion.
Binary fission of a prokaryote
The name of the ‘good’ gut bacteria found in humans is mesophilic. You’ll likely have seen plenty of TV adverts over the years which talk about introducing ‘good’ bacteria into your gut to give it a balance.
Bacteria living deep in our oceans oxidize sulfuric from the Earth’s core to survive. Now that’s determination!
Some Bacteria survive and reproduce by division. This asexual method of reproduction is called Binary Fission.
Another method for bacteria to reproduce is by the use of spores. Spores, once produced and released can survive for centuries. Holding DNA, spores are resistant to many extremes such as weather.
Endospores and exospores are the names to given to spores, respectively developed from within or outside the bacteria.
Bacteria are essential for humans to survive, enabling important functions to take place. These include, for example, the breakdown of sugar for the release of essential energy used in body cells.
Bacteria of molds and fungus are used in food production such as yogurts, cheese, and bread, using yeast.
Bacteria are used in the production of medicines, such as antibiotics. It’s a primary factor in the production of penicillin!
However, bacteria can be weaponized. Bacterial warfare has been used throughout history – it was first noted when, in 1327, the Mongolian empire threw the diseased ridden bodies of people over enemy walls to ensure the disease spread to kill their opponents.
The ‘American Scientist’ magazine described anthrax as the ‘poor man’s atom bomb’. There have been spates of anthrax ‘bombs’ delivered across the world. It’s a common form of bacterial terrorism.
In the Second World War, Japanese forces killed thousands of prisoners through experiments with bacteria. Following the war, the USA and Russia, in particular, made strong protocols for not only withholding these as agents to kill and disable, but also developed secure methods to store them.
In 1969, US President Richard Nixon declared the end of America’s Bioweapons program, and by 1972, all stocks had been destroyed.
In some cases, biohazard cleaning companies and specialists are deployed to care for laboratory spills. That’s because there are many labs out there which deal in the research of deadly bacteria.
Do you have any interesting or fun facts about bacteria that we’ve missed? Share them here in the comments section below!