The Strange Shapes of Bacteria
Bacteria, of many strange shapes and sizes, are everywhere. In every habitat – desert, forest, ocean, grassland, and even in the Arctic, bacteria are an inescapable part of life. No matter how many detox diets you do, or how often you clean the kitchen, bacteria will still be all around you and even inside of your body. And this isn’t a bad thing! Most bacteria live in the lining your digestive system, helping to keep things running smoothly.
Bacteria can benefit humans, like turning milk into yogurt, but they can also cause deadly conditions like pneumonia. Needless to say, the human relationship with bacteria is complicated and fascinating.
What Are Bacteria?
Here are a few more details for those of us that haven’t sat in a science classroom for a while: bacteria are single-celled microbes. Their cell structure is less complicated than multicellular organisms, and their genetic information is contained in a single loop of DNA. By contrast, humans have about 10,000 loops of DNA.
Sometimes a bacterium also includes an extra circle of genetic material called a plasmid. This plasmid gives certain bacterium an advantage over other bacteria and can make them resistant to certain antibiotics, for example.
Because they have a rigid cell wall, they maintain distinct and definite shapes – some stranger than others. These shapes can exist as single cells, pairs, clusters, and chains. They vary greatly and are an ongoing area of scientific study and discovery.
So let’s take a look at some of the strange shapes of bacteria…
One of the three basic shapes, coccus are round cells. Occasionally they are slightly flat due to their proximity to other cells.
Bacilli is another of the three basic shapes. It is rod-shaped or cylindrical.
The final basic shape is spirilla. Spirilla curve like a ripe banana. Other cells can look more like a spiraling corkscrew. Some are rigid, others are flexible.
Filamentous form long, stretching filaments that can connect. A network of these filaments is known as “mycelium”.
You guessed it – these bacteria are box-like in shape.
Ongoing scientific research continues to illuminate how certain bacteria are related. Star-shaped bacteria found along the Atlantic ocean floor and the Baltic sea are still a mystery.
Still maintaining rigid wall cells, appendaged or budding bacteria have strange shapes and may reproduce differently than other shapes. Scientists continue to investigate more.
Trichomes are a chain of vegetative cells. A protective structure can enclose them, like a sword in a sheath.
Unlike all the others listed above, pleomorphic bacteria do not have a characteristic or standard shape. Their shapes can change or appear in a variety of ways.
What experiences in your life have changed your perspective on bacteria? Did you know about the strange shapes of bacteria and does that change how you feel about it? Let us know in the comments!