All of us are special, but some of us are more special than others. Even in the bacterial world, this rings true. There are useful bacteria, harmful bacteria, neutral bacteria, but there are also some guys out there that are just plain weird. These bacteria stand out because they all have strange characteristics that make them a little different from your everyday microbes.
The Navigators – Magnetotactic Bacteria
These guys are perfectly handy. Magnetic bacteria basically contain tiny magnets inside them that force them into alignment, just like a compass needle. These tiny magnets are actually organelles called magnetosomes, which contain magnetic crystals. Even dead magnetotactic bacteria align when introduced to a magnetic field, meaning you could very well carry these guys around to help you find north, although a compass may prove more effective.
Glow in the Dark – Bioluminescent Bacteria
If you’ve ever taken a trip to Glistening Waters in Falmouth, or Mosquito Bay in Puerto Rico you may have seen a creepy blue-green glow in the seas or tiny specks of light moving within the water at night. This isn’t a magic trick. This is actually the work of some pretty cool bacteria. This phenomenon – known as phosphorence – is the work of some pretty clever bacteria. These bacteria usually live inside animals that are threatened by predators. The animals provide the bacteria with a nice place to stay and some food, and in return the animals are free to take advantage of the bacteria’s phosphorescent powers. Bioluminescent bacteria are able to detect when their population increases, and when the crowd gets big enough, they all light up and let the party begin. The light produced by this bacteria provides a defence mechanism for the animals they live in. When predators see the animals start to glow, they become confused and don’t bother to attack them.
Mr Incredible – Deinococcus radiodurans
Dubbed the “world’s toughest bacterium” in The Guinness Book of World Records, this guy is truly Mr Incredible. Deinococcus radiodurans is resistant to pretty much everything, meaning it can survive just about anywhere. As part of a class of bacteria known as extremophiles (basically they can survive extreme environments), this bad boy can survive in heat, cold, acid, dehydration and even a vacuum. In fact, D. radiodurans is so cool, it is able to withstand an acute dose of ionizing radiation, which is how it earned its noble name. Almost twice as cool, D. radiodurans has been found to have the ability to isolate and repair damaged sections of DNA. Seriously, what doesn’t this guy do?
The Renegade – Actinomycetes
Within every social circle, there’s always a darker character, an unsung weapon-wielding hero. In the bacterial world, these are the Actinomycetes, who fight against the powerful effects of the Pathogens. Actinomycetes are a group of bacteria usually found in soil which are able to produce substances that kill other bacteria (antibiotics). That’s right, these guys can kill even some of the most dangerous bacteria. Most of the antibiotics we use today were first produced from a species of Actinomycetes and an overwhelming number of antibiotics have been found from the group over time. Despite their danger-fighting pursuits however, Actinomycetes also have another gentler role – they produce geosmin, which is responsible for the smell of soil and rain. J
The Feminist – Wolbachia
Finally, we get to the esteemed Wolbachia. Make no mistake about it, this may be one of the weirdest and absolute coolest bacteria ever discovered. Wolbachia have a number of different traits, but particularly fascinating is the fascination this bacteria seems to have with the protection of the female species. Wolbachia infect the organs of many different insects, and are only able to be passed on from a female insect to her offspring. Wolbachia exploit this to increase their chances of survival – more females, more Wolbachia. And they do so in some pretty bizarre ways.
- Male killing: male insects infected with Wolbachia die while they’re still larvae, so they never make it to adulthood. This effect isn’t seen in their female siblings
- Feminization: some male insects start their lives are males but eventually develop into females
- Parthenogenesis: (this one is crazy!). Basically Wolbachia eliminates the need for males entirely by allowing the female insect to reproduce completely on her own! Who needs those pesky males anyway?
- Cytoplasmic incompatibility:
Even bacteria have their own unique personalities and characteristics, which can be exploited for applications across various industries. These weird bacteria are hardly spoken of as much as their dangerous disease-causing friends, but in fact, these guys are pretty interesting in their uniqueness and make up just a small part of the social circle of the microbe world.