Who's the master?

Master might be too strong a word, but dominant life form on the planet is pretty easy to justify. It's BACTERIA! I know. The buggers are pretty small, but often impressive things can come in small packages.

In any case, bacteria more than make up for their small stature with their sheer numbers. In a typical gram of soil, there's billions of bacteria spread across several thousand species. But that number pales in comparison to how many bacteria are in feces. You can find a trillion bacteria in just one gram of human feces. This isn't surprising when you consider that the typical person has over 10% of their dry weight comprised of bacteria--and if you want to measure in terms of number of cells then we lose the battle. Each of us has more bacterial cells living on or in us than we have cells of our own. Amazing. Each of us is really a bacterial colony on the hoof.

Pushing that analogy a little further, there's virtually universal agreement that the mitochondria in our cells were originally independent cells--probably bacteria. Here's a link for someone that disagrees. Less certain but still likely is that the nucleous in our cells was also originally an independent cell, and in plants their chloroplasts. If these theories are correct, then each and everyone of our cells is actually a collaborative effort between bacteria and non-bacteria. Furthermore, no higher life forms would be possible without the contribution of bacteria. A sobering thought. Speaking of sober--yeast, which enable the production of alcohol, are another closely related topic!

A brief aside: one of the researchers on the forefront of mitochonrial research is Dr. Douglas Wallace at Emory University. This article illustrates how interesting that line of research can be for the public.

So, we can't live without bacteria, they make up 10% or over 50% of us depending on how you're measuring, and there's more bacteria by weight than any other living thing on the planet. That's pretty masterful!


GPV said…
lots more can be said,I'll wait for the next one.
Energy productive Bacteria?
utenzi said…
It's true that bacteria inhabit an incredible range of niches in almost every environment on the planet. A number of them involve energy production. I don't know much about that stuff though. Just what I've read in general science magazines.

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