Microworld: Bacterial Marathon

science, cat, microbiology, microscopic, bacteria

Bacteria are truly the marathoners of the natural world, having existed from very early in the emergence of life on the blue planet.

There is some evidence that bacteria may have been present since early Precambrian time (3.5 billion years ago), and they were definitely widespread by the Paleoproterozoic Era (1.8 billion years ago) when oxygen appeared in the atmosphere.

What are bacteria?

Bacteria are single-celled prokaryotic organisms. Prokaryotic cells are generally much smaller than the eukaryotic cells which make up plants, animals and fungi, but they are complex despite their small size. Structurally, a typical bacterium usually consists of a cytoplasmic membrane surrounded by a cell wall, cytoplasm containing a nucleoid and ribosomes (little protein factories), and often various external structures such as fimbriae, flagella, and pili.

Bacteria have 3 basic shapes, though there can be a lot of diversity within the 3 types. Those shapes are: spherical (cocci), rod (bacilli), and spiral (spirilla). A couple variations on these shapes are curved rod-shaped (vibrio), and tightly coiled spiral-shaped (spirochetes).

Where can you find bacteria?

Bacteria are everywhere! They can be found everywhere from the dirt you walk on to the food you consume, to inside your own body! Did you know the human body contains about an equal number of bacterial and human cells?

Bacteria can be aerobic or anaerobic, meaning some require oxygen while others don’t. They can be found in arctic ice, hot springs, human and animal flora, up to 30 miles into the atmosphere, and 6 miles deep in the ocean. Extremophiles, or extremophilic bacteria, can survive where all other life forms cannot!

Are bacteria pathogenic?

Some bacteria do cause disease in humans and other plants and animals. Some bacterial diseases include cholera, diphtheria, dysentery, bubonic plague, pneumonia, strep throat, leprosy, and tuberculosis.

However, many bacteria are not harmful, and can even lend a helping hand! They use nitrogen fixation to convert nitrogen into a useable food source for plants, can aid in food fermentation, and help breakdown food inside the body. Some bacteria can even fight off other pathogens to help ward off disease!

In the marathon of life, bacteria are truly the winners! So take a note from these long distance runners, and get ready for 24 hours of marathon goodness on Eyewire! trace those cubes and let’s see how many we can do. Make your bacterial friends proud!

Starting at 10:00 AM ET on 5/26, you will have 24 hours to complete one or more cells! Bonus & cell renaming information can be found in your in-game notifications.

Swag (made possible by generous donations from Eyewirer @susi): The top player (defined by number of points earned during the marathon time period) will win their choice of tote bag or t-shirt! Also, among the top 25% of players, 2 players will each be raffled their choice of face mask or notebook, and 3 more players will be raffled magnets.

Artwork by Daniela Gamba