Although they are invisible to our eyes, bacteria are everywhere: inside our bodies and outside in the environment. In this article, we are going to tell some interesting facts:
1. OLDER THAN DINOSAURS
Bacteria have existed for more than three billion years: they are the oldest lifeform on the planet. To understand the scale of this fact, know that the human species is more than 12,000 years old (since the Neolithic revolution), dinosaurs’ extinction happened 65.95 million years ago, and Earth’s age is about 4.5 billion years.
2. FAST AS LIGHTNING
A bacterium can usually move a hundred times the size of its body in one second. To see it in perspective: a fish moves ten times the length of its body in the same time!
3. BACTERIA ARE GOOD TO EAT
Excluding undesirable contamination, bacteria are found in numerous foods since they are used in the preparation of many foods. Examples are the leavening of bread and derivatives, alcoholic fermentation, cheese, and many other products that help the intestinal bacterial flora such as yoghurt.
4. GALACTIC SIZES
There are 5000 billion billion billion bacteria on Earth, a quantity much larger than the number of stars in the Universe. If we align them in a row, one by one (each one is one micron big…), we would obtain a distance of 530 million light-years.
5. THEY ARE ALMOST COMPLETELY HARMLESS
There are more bacteria in our bodies than human cells. They help us with digestion and to defend us from the nastier bacteria. Considering all known bacteria, less than 1% can be harmful and make us sick.
6. THEY WERE DISCOVERED IN 1674
Antonie van Leeuwenhoek – a Dutch scientist – observed bacteria for the first time in a sample obtained by scraping the human mouth with a newly invented microscope. He called them animalcula, which means “small animals”. The name bacterium comes from the Greek word βακτήριου and means “stick”; it was coined in 1839 by the German naturalist Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg.
7. THEY ONLY HAVE ONE CELL, HOWEVER….
Bacteria are unicellular organisms, i.e., they only have one cell. However, when they reproduce they can form complex aggregates (e.g. by producing biofilm), exhibiting coordinated behavior and gaining biological advantages over a single unit.
8. THEY HAVE A UNIQUE SHAPE
Bacteria are often shaped like a sphere or a stick. However, they also have other bizarre shapes, such as a comma- or corkscrew-shape.
9. THEY ARE TOUGH
Bacteria can survive in the most hostile environments, such as glaciers or the depths of the sea. Through the use of spores, they can survive in extreme conditions, e.g., 122°C in hydrothermal springs.
10. THEY ADAPT QUICKLY
Bacteria adapt quickly, making it difficult to find an antibiotic that works consistently. The use of antibiotics pushes bacteria to become resistant, making established therapies ineffective and increasing the risk of death from infection.