Science - Nature
By: - at April 15, 2015

15 Remarkable Facts About Bacteria

Bacteria are often considered as bad organisms because they are often associated with illness and disease. However, these one-celled microorganisms are not just pathogenic in nature. Dating back to the time before the dinosaurs, all types of bacteria were found just about everywhere. Microscopically sized, bacteria can be may are shaped in spirals, rods, and orbs.

While bacteria can cause infections or illness, they can be beneficial to humans too. Good bacteria are helpful to digestive health and immune system functionality. Foods like yogurt include the good kind of bacteria to keep people regular, commonly known as probiotics. Good digestive health is maintained by healthy probiotics and the quantities those tiny bacteria inside of someone. Those people who get healthy probiotics regularly are more likely to live much more mentally healthy, balanced lives as most serotonin is produced in the GI tract or "gut". Bacteria is used for food preservation, enhances the virility of crop soil, and bacteria even helps to eliminate solid waste.

probiotic drink

Adaptable to a variety of environments, bacteria can act as contagions as well. For example, E.coli bacteria is associated with the bacteria that are found in feces. Bacteria also causes such diseases as the flu and common cold – both produce symptoms like coughing, tearing or running eyes, and a runny nose.

Probiotic Cycle in Body
Probiotic Cycle in Body

Bacteria are both interesting and fascinating organism because of their adaptability, longevity, and microscopic complexity. The following are fifteen facts about bacteria demonstrating how contact with them is an absolutely unavoidable part of life.

15)  Fast Food Restaurants Have More Bacteria in Their Ice than in Their Toilet Water!
Twelve-year-old science student Jasmine Roberts conducted a scientific experiment for a school project which tested the ice machines at five fast food restaurants for bacteria. She used the results of the testing and compared it with the testing results for the toilet water at the southern Florida sites.

fast food chains
By Bryan Allison via Wikimedia Commons

Results form the testing showed that 70% of the time, the ice had more bacteria than toilet water. In some of the studies' more horrific cases, beverage ice even tested positive for E.coli bacteria.

beverage ice

The toilet water was apparently cleaner because that water source comes from reasonably sanitized city water, and the toilets routinely cleaned by employees. The ice machines were found to be cleaned less often than the toilets at many fast food locations.

14)  Unwashed Jeans Have the Same Amount of Bacteria on Them after 15 Months As They Do after 13 Days!
In 2011, Canadian college student, Josh Le embarked on a curious scientific experiment. During the course of his studies, he met a professor who specialized in the research of bacteria and their effect on textiles. Intrigued by this unique area of scientific study, Le approached the professor and proposed a test – one that would involve Le wearing a pair of jeans for 15 months without washing the garment.

really dirty jeans

The purpose of the test was to determine just how much bacteria would accumulate over the period. The results of this evaluation were compared with wearing the jeans for a much shorter span of time, or 13 days – the average amount of time most people wear their jeans before washing them.

Although he never washed the jeans, Le did make a number of attempts to keep the jeans somewhat clean. For instance, he always had a paper towel on hand to remove any stains from the jeans. He would also air the jeans out after wearing them. Furthermore, he stored the jeans in his freezer overnight if they ever started to smell. Basically, he did everything to keep the jeans “clean” short of actually washing them.

girl dirty jeans

At the end of the experiment, Le and the professor tested just how much bacteria were on the jeans. Le then washed the jeans before wearing them for 13 days.

The experiment revealed that the amount of bacteria living in the jean material was about the same regardless of the amount of time that the jeans were worn.

13)  The Scent of Rainwater is Caused by Bacteria
There are good bacteria and there are bad bacteria. And, then there are “pleasant-scented” bacteria. Many people love the smell of rain, especially when it wafts through the air after a long period of sun and heat. The scent or petrichor results from the collection of streptomyces, or bacteria living in the ground. The micorganisms activate the production of the chemical, geosmin, which manufactures the smell.

rainwater scent

12)  Harmful Bacteria is Quickly Killed by Such Metals as Copper or Brass
If you are a germophobe and terrified of turning the knob on a door because of bacteria, you may want to install copper and brass handles to lessen your concerns. That’s because copper and brass are more hygienic than door handles made of steel or aluminum. Copper and brass have antimicrobial properties, which are known to produce an oligodynamic effect. In other words, they spread far fewer germs than door handles made of other materials, such as steel or aluminum.

Oligodynamic Effect Explained
Oligodynamic Effect Explained

In fact, one study showed that olgodynamic metal containers, made for holding water, were effectively used in killing off salmonella microbes. Copper, brass, and silver metals were tested against water containing the organisms. It took no longer than 12 hours for the metals to kill the germs.

Other metals have the same kind of antimicrobial properties, including gold, lead and bronze. However, copper and brass are by far better to use for sanitizing purposes.

Brass Door Handles are Best for Sanitizing
brass door knob

Door handles that are made entirely of copper can kill bacteria within 15 minutes while it takes brass about seven hours to eliminate germs.

11)  Over 2,300 Forms of Bacteria Reside in the Belly Button
One study, conducted in 2012, which is part of a project known as “Belly Button Biodiversity,” found that the navel holds more than 2,300 kinds of bacteria. Sixty participants in the research study were tested, which entailed swabbing and analyzing the volunteers’ belly buttons. Researchers discovered 1,458 types of bacteria unique to the belly button of the 2,368 kinds of bacteria that were found.

By Stinkie Pinkie via Wikimedia Commons

Scientists contended that the large number of bacteria resulted from the natural tendency of people to overlook cleaning the belly button when they showered or bathed. Because the belly button serves as a point of entry in a number of surgeries, it can also serve as a portal for harmful bacteria - a scary thought if you are contemplating surgery.

Scanning Electron Micrograph of Escherichia coli
Scanning Electron Micrograph of Escherichia coli

10)  One Bacterium is Ideal for Use in Space Exploration
Among the various bacteria, the bacterium, Deinococcus radiodurans (D. radiodurans) is by far the most impressive with respect to its ability to survive. While other forms of bacteria can easily be killed, D. radiodurans not only survives but also continues to thrive. In one research study, scientists subjected the bacterium to a variety of tests in order to kill the organism. Researchers tried bathing the microorganism in acid as well as subjecting it to radiation or extreme temperatures. However, none of these attempts worked.

space exploration

That’s because the bacterium is genetically programmed so it can repair itself. As a result, researchers are directing their studies toward using the resilient bacterium in the space exploration area. Because of the bacterium’s unique ability to survive, the microorganism can be used where other life forms might perish.

Transmission Electron Micrograph of Deinococcus Radiodurans
Transmission Electron Micrograph of Deinococcus Radiodurans

9)  A Bacterium Exists that is 250 Million Years Old
In 2009, prehistoric bacteria were discovered in Carlsbad, New Mexico. Encased in a salt crystal 1,850 feet underground, the bacteria was estimated to be about 250 million years old. Formed during the Paleozoic Era, the ancient organisms existed at a time when the Earth was experiencing significant losses of life.

Gram Stain of Bacillus Species
Gram Stain of Bacillus Species
By Dr. Sahay via Wikimedia Commons

Held in a state of suspended animation, the prehistoric bacteria survived as spores and metabolized very little over time. DNA tests have revealed that the prehistoric bacteria are related to the modern-day bacterium, Bacillus, which is a type of bacteria that is commonly found in water, soil and dust.

Bacterial Morphology Diagram
Bacterial Morphology Diagram

8)  The H. Pylori Bacterium is the Cause for Ulcers – Not Stress
In the past, it was commonly believed that stress was the main cause of stomach ulcers. Therefore, most of the remedies that doctors prescribed focused on minimizing the anxiety of the sufferer. In reality, though, stomach ulcers originate from microaerophilic bacteria which are found in the stomach.

Electron Micrograph of H. Pylori Possessing Multiple Flagella
Electron Micrograph of H. Pylori Possessing Multiple Flagella
By Yutaka Tsutsumi via Wikimedia Commons

Known as Helicobacter Pylori (H. Pylori), the bacterium is frequently found in the upper intestinal tract and is not only responsible for ulcers but for intestinal conditions such as stomach cancer and gastritis.

H Pylori crossing stomach layers

However, that being said, some people still believe that stomach ulcers form because of stress. That myth was debunked though in the 80s. At the time, Dr. Barry Marshall conducted an experiment that proved that the H. Pylori bacterium was responsible for the malady. To prove his point, the researcher consumed a sampling of the microorganism and documented the results. Eventually it was proven as Barry did develop an ulcer. The research earned him a Nobel Price in Medicine for his work in the discipline.

7)  Bacteria Makes Up Approximately Five Pounds of a Person's Body Weight
Most people are well aware that bacteria are everywhere. In fact, regardless of how hygienic a person is, bacteria still thrives in and around the human body. What most people do not realize though is that this same bacteria can impact a person's weight. On average, approximately five pounds of weight can be attributed to bacteria.

bacteria adding weight

Fortunately, most of the bacteria that adds to a person's weight is the good form of bacteria – organisms that are essential to a person's intestinal health. The good bacteria also protects the body from the bad kinds of bacteria.

human digestive system
By BruceBlaus via Wikimedia Commons

6)  The Discoverer of Penicillin Discouraged Its Use Because of Mutant Bacteria
In 1929, British bacteriologist, Alexander Fleming (August 6, 1881 to March 11, 1955) discovered penicillin by accident. The drug, which proved to be one of the greatest medical discoveries in history, was a concern for the scientist. Fleming believed use of the drug would lead to it being ineffective as bacterial mutations would eventually resist the drug.

Alexander Fleming
Alexander Fleming

Fortunately, doctors ignored Fleming's warnings and, happily, penicillin served as a stepping stone for the further development of antibiotic medicines – medicines that are regularly used today to fight off serious infections and build up immunity.

WWII Promotion for Penicillin Use
WWII Promotion for Penicillin Use

5)  Bacteria Causes “Avatar Meat” to Glow
One special, or at least unique, kind of meat that emits a blue glow in the dark is a pork known as “avatar meat.” Bacteria are what give the meat it phosphorescent light. In 2011, the meat was eaten by a Chinese family, who discovered the meat glowing in the dark.

glowing pork

The Changsha Food Safety Commission, who investigated the report, discovered that the blue glow resulted from a bacterial contamination. Fortunately, it was also found that the bacteria did not produce any harmful side effects as long the meat was completely heated and cooked.

Glowing Pork on a Plate
Glowing Pork on a Plate

4)  Bacteria Can Sling-shot Back and Forth
In 2011, researchers used a high-speed camera to capture footage of bacteria. The cells used their natural, grappling hook-like structures, known as Type IV pili (TFP), to sling-shot from one surface to the next. The TFP is crucial to the movement of bacteria. Because bacteria are covered in polysaccharides (a viscous material that significantly restricts their movements), the organisms need TFP in able to move around.

Myxococcus Xanthus Type IV Pili
Myxococcus Xanthus Type IV Pili

3)  Bacteria Saved Lives During the Civil War
During America’s Civil War a number of wounded soldiers suffered from an unusual phenomenon that caused their wounds to glow in the dark. The strange phenomenon was dubbed the “Angel’s Glow."

In 1862, at the conclusion of the Battle of Shiloh, over 16,000 soldiers had been injured. Because little was understood about infection at the time, many of the soldiers became quite sick.

Depiction of the Battle of Shiloh
Depiction of the Battle of Shiloh

During that time, soldiers were forced to sit in the mud for hours waiting to get treated. So, at night, many of the wounded noted that their wounds would glow faintly in the dark. While not all of the soldiers experienced the phenomenon, those who did had a higher survival rate.

Over a century passed before the mystery of the “Angel's Glow” was finally solved. In 2001, scientists determined that the glow was the result of bacteria. Specifically, it was because of the bacterium Photorhabdus luminescens (P. luminescens).

Photorhabdus luminescens or angels glow

P. luminescens is a type of bacteria that flourishes in the gut of nematodes, which track down insect larvae. The nematodes vomit the bacteria into the bodies of the larvae. In turn, the bacteria produces chemicals that kill all the microorganisms and larvae in the wound. Therefore, the reason for the higher survival rate among those who experienced the Angel’s Glow was due to the P. luminescens. The bacteria had killed the harmful organisms in the soldiers’ wounds.

2)  Bacteria Results in Bio-precipitation
In 2011, researchers discovered that hailstones had large portions of bacteria at their cores. The discovery was significant because it supported the theory of "bio-precipitation" – the concept that suggests that bacteria play a significant role in initiating precipitation.

The bacteria that was discovered had caused water to freeze at a relatively warm temperature. Researchers at the American Society for Microbiology believed that the organisms had evolved to the point where they could facilitate the dispersal of rain, hail and snow.

water cycle

Microorganisms in precipitation have been studied since the 1960s. One particular bacterium that is commonly associated with bio-precipitation is Pseudomonas syringae (P. syringae). The bacterium causes the formation of ice at temperatures far higher than what is normally required.

Pseudomonas Syringae Cultures
Pseudomonas Syringae Cultures
By Howard F. Schwartz via Wikimedia Commons

P. syringae are known to accumulate on plants and then rise into the air in updrafts. When the bacteria reach the clouds, they produce precipitation. In 2008, Dr. Brent Christner of Louisiana State University reported that his research showed that the amount of bacteria had increased in the snow throughout the world. Dr. Christner theorized that the process that causes P. syringae to rise up in the clouds may be a way for nature to disseminate the bacteria.

1)  Bacteria Changed the Way NASA Looks for Extraterrestrial Life
Up until the late 2000s, it was widely believed that all life in the world was composed of six elements: hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur and phosphorus. However, in 2010 scientist discovered the microorganism, GFAJ-1 in Mono Lake, California. One of the building blocks used to create GFAJ-1’s genetic material included arsenic, which is generally poisonous to most living things on Earth.

GFAJ-1 Grown on Arsenic
GFAJ-1 Grown on Arsenic

GFAJ-1 is unlike any known organism on Earth then because it utilizes arsenic to construct its DNA. NASA scientist Felisa Wolfe-Simon and her team made the discovery. Scientists had previously thought that every being on Earth had the same DNA blocks.

Felisa Wolfe-Simon at the 2011 Time 100 Gala
Felisa Wolfe-Simon at the 2011 Time 100 Gala
By David Shankbone via Wikimedia Commons

The implications of the discovery were enormous. It changed what scientists thought they knew about the very essence of life. Furthermore, it increased the possibility that life on other planets could be found. Because of the discovery, scientists are now looking for new types of organisms – cells that utilize uncommon elements. The discovery caused scientists to realize that they had been looking for life in the wrong places all along. It also changed how NASA now searches for extraterrestrial life in the Universe.

Bacteria thrive in a variety of environments. They can adapt to almost any conditions and are found in the depths of the ocean as well as in hot springs, in ice, and even in the stratosphere. More bacteria exist on the Earth than any other living thing. All in all, bacteria—bad and good—are essential for the cycle of life. Associated with germs, bacteria are organisms that are also associated with life and health and are an incredible part of the world and universe.





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