The One With Bacteria

Bacteria. It doesn’t sound pleasant, does it? Most of us would avoid anything with bacteria in it or on it wouldn’t we? But bacteria are amazing, and in some cases incredibly helpful little organisms.

What exactly is bacteria? Firstly, they are very small, only made up of one cell. However, these bacterial cells aredifferent to the cells that make up you and me. They don’t have a nucleus, all of their genetic material (deoxyribonucleic acid – DNA) is floating around inside the cell, whereas our DNA is enclosed within the cell nucleus. Think of this like an egg – in humans our DNA is locked up in theegg yolk of our cells (nucleus); but for bacteria, there is no yolk, just the egg white, which is where the bacteria’s DNA is located.


Bacteria are everywhere – in about 1 gram of soil more than 40 million bacteria can be found – 40 million!!! That’s in just 1 gram of soil, so imagine how many there are in the whole world?!

Bacteria were most likely to first living things on Earth. And you know what? Bacteria are immortal – that is until the area they live is sterilised. So, in comparison to human cells, which have a plan for when the cell will die (although if this process is disrupted it can lead to disease), bacteria cells will live indefinitely until they come into contact with some form of sterilisation, such as bleach. However, in saying that, this view is slowly changing with the more we understand about bacteria, that they might actually use programmed cell death like human cells.

Bacteria can consume organic chemicals (either dead or alive) as nutrition; however, some bacteria are also incredibly clever, they can use photosynthesis (remember school science class?! This is making food utilising sunlight) to create their own nutrition.

A few bacteria give all bacteria a bad name, when people hear the word bacteria they think it must be bad. But in fact, bacteria exists all around us, and if it did not exist then life as we know it probably wouldn’t exist.

I won’t go into every type of bacteria, but let’s take azospirillum for example. This bacteria lives near the roots of mostly tropical grasses. It uses the nutrients emitted by the tropical grasses and turns these into nitrogen, helping to promote plant growth.

Another bacteria, acetobacter, is important for converting ethanol to vinegar.

A more commonly known bacteria, Escherichia coli, is one of the most common bacteria types in every person’s gastrointestinal tract. It’s usually not pathogenic (causes disease); however, it can sometimes lead to urinary tract infections and diarrhea.

You’ve probably also heard of lactobacillus, which are common in pickles, sauerkraut, and yoghurt, and are great for your gut health.

Listeria is probably another bacteria you’ve heard of; it can be quite dangerous, especially if consumed by pregnant women. What is more interesting is that listeria can survive in refrigerated temperatures, which is unusual for most bacteria – take note of those used by dates!

These are just a mere few of the many bacteria types that we know about.

So, hopefully you might understand a little more about bacteria, and how most of the time they are incredibly useful and amazing little organisms!


The One With The Introduction

I’m going to come right out and say it, I’m no good at talking about myself. There, I said it! Scientists are asked to talk about themselves all the time, whether it be at a conference, networking events, in a lab meeting, or at the dinner table with friends. It’s something I have always found hard and have effectively learnt how to deflect the conversation away from me!

But, in a world where self-promotion gets the money and fame (think big Government grants), deflecting attention from myself gets me nowhere, you could almost say negative notoriety. So, as much as I don’t like it, I’ve had to learn to talk about myself, even if it makes me incredibly uncomfortable.

I thought I’d be incredibly ingenious and start a novel thing they call a blog. You see blogs are THE new thing, I like to think of myself as a blog pioneer, because as far as I can tell I’m pretty much the first science blogger on the internet (! – slight exaggeration I know).

But more seriously, when I first started writing this very blog post I hadn’t quite realised how much I enjoy writing creatively. You see, I’ve had 15 years of my educators and fellow science peers telling me NOT to write creatively. That’s just not the done thing in science, you have to write empirically and sound intellectual while doing it.

And don’t get me wrong, I love science writing, and value it’s place in science communication; however, I think that to make science (and all of its awesomeness) more reachable and relatable we (as scientists) need to broaden our ideas of what science communication is. It’s not all journal articles and conferences, it’s telling my husband, my family, and my next door neighbour what I did at work today and to hopefully get them excited about science as much as I am.

So that’s why I’m here, and you’re there, reading about my love of science.