5. Bacteria


Bacteria are single celled microbes. The cell structure is simpler than that of other organisms as there is no nucleus or membrane bound organelles. Instead their control centre containing the genetic information is contained in a single loop of DNA. Some bacteria have an extra circle of genetic material called a plasmid. The plasmid often contains genes that give the bacterium some advantage over other bacteria. For example it may contain a gene that makes the bacterium resistant to a certain antibiotic.

Bacteria are classified into five groups according to their basic shapes: spherical (cocci), rod (bacilli), spiral (spirilla), comma (vibrios) or corkscrew (spirochaetes). They can exist as single cells, in pairs, chains or clusters.

Bacterial shapes
 Different bacterial shapes.

Bacteria are found in every habitat on Earth: soil, rock, oceans and even arctic snow. Some live in or on other organisms including plants and animals including humans. There are approximately 10 times as many bacterial cells as human cells in the human body. A lot of these bacterial cells are found lining the digestive system. Some bacteria live in the soil or on dead plant matter where they play an important role in the cycling of nutrients. Some types cause food spoilage and crop damage but others are incredibly useful in the production of fermented foods such as yoghurt and soy sauce. Relatively few bacteria are parasites or pathogens that cause disease in animals and plants.

E. coli

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