What are Bacteria and what diseases do they cause?

December 24, 2017

Bacteria are tiny living beings (microorganisms) - they are neither plants nor animals - they belong to a group all by themselves. Bacteria are tiny single-cell microorganisms, usually a few micrometers in length that normally exist together in millions.


A gram of soil typically contains about 40 million bacterial cells. A millilitre of fresh water usually holds about one million bacterial cells.


Planet Earth is estimated to hold at least 5 nonillion bacteria. Scientists say that much of Earth's biomass is made up of bacteria.


5 nonillion = 5,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (or 5x1030)
(Nonillion = 30 zeros in USA English. In British English it equals 54 zeros. This text uses the American meaning)



Bacteria are found everywhere!


Bacteria can be found in:

  • Soil

  • Radioactive waste

  • Water

  • Plants

  • Animals

  • Deep in the earth's crust

  • Organic material

  • Arctic ice

  • Glaciers

  • Hot springs

  • The stratosphere (between 6 to 30 miles up in the atmosphere)

  • Ocean depths - they have been found deep in ocean canyons and trenches over 32,800 feet (10,000 meters) deep. They live in total darkness by thermal vents at incredible pressure. They make their own food by oxidizing sulfur that oozes from deep inside the earth.

Scientists who specialise in bacteria - Bacteriologists - say bacteria are found absolutely everywhere except for places that humans have sterilized. Even the most unlikely places where temperatures may be extreme, or where there may be a high concentration of toxic chemicals, have bacteria. These bacteria are known as extremophiles (an extremophile is any organism adapted to living in conditions of extreme temperature, pressure, or/and chemical concentrations) and can survive where no other organism can.


Put simply - bacteria were the first organisms to appear on earth, about 4 billion years ago. Our oldest known fossils are of bacteria-like organisms.


What are bacterial diseases?


Bacterial diseases include any type of illness caused by bacteria. Bacteria are a type of microorganism, which are tiny forms of life that can only be seen with a microscope. Other types of microorganisms include viruses, some fungi, and some parasites.


Millions of bacteria normally live on the skin, in the intestines, and on the genitalia. The vast majority of bacteria do not cause disease, and many bacteria are actually helpful and even necessary for good health. These bacteria are sometimes referred to as “good bacteria” or “healthy bacteria.”


Harmful bacteria that cause bacterial infections and disease are called pathogenic bacteria. Bacterial diseases occur when pathogenic bacteria get into the body and begin to reproduce and crowd out healthy bacteria, or to grow in tissues that are normally sterile. Harmful bacteria may also emit toxins that damage the body. Common pathogenic bacteria and the types of bacterial diseases they cause include:

  • Food poisoning

  • Gastritis and ulcers

  • Gonorrhea

  • Boils, cellulitis, abscesses, wound infections, toxic shock syndrome, pneumonia, and food poisoning.

  • Streptococcal bacteria cause a variety of infections in the body, including pneumonia, meningitis, ear infections, and strep throat.

Bacterial diseases are contagious and can result in many serious or life-threatening complications, such as blood poisoning (bacteremia), kidney failure, and toxic shock syndrome.


Bacteria are often maligned as the causes of human and animal disease (like Leptospira, which causes serious disease in livestock). However, certain bacteria produce antibiotics such as streptomycin and nocardicin; others live symbiotically in the guts of animals (including humans) or elsewhere in their bodies, or on the roots of certain plants, converting nitrogen into a usable form. Bacteria put the tang in yogurt and the sour in sourdough bread; bacteria help to break down dead organic matter; bacteria make up the base of the food web in many environments. Bacteria are of such immense importance because of their extreme flexibility, capacity for rapid growth and reproduction, and great age - the oldest fossils known, nearly 3.5 billion years old, are fossils of bacteria-like organisms.


Interesting Facts About Bacteria


1. Drying your hands with paper towel will reduce the bacterial count by 45 – 60% on your hands. However, using a hand dryer will increase the bacteria on your hands by up to 255% because it blows out bacteria already living in the conveniently warm moist environment.


2. In 2012, scientists found 1,458 new species of bacteria living just in the bellybutton of human beings. Everyone’s bellybutton ecology is unique like a fingerprint, and one volunteer’s belly button harbored bacteria that had previously been found only in soil from Japan, where he had never been.


3. The amount of bacteria on a pair of jeans doesn’t increase after about 2 weeks of wear. The study had the test subject wear the jeans non-stop for 15 months, and still it didn’t develop an unhealthy amount of bacteria.


4. Some Civil War soldiers had wounds that glowed in the dark because of a bioluminescent bacteria that was puked up by nematodes. These bacteria actually killed off other pathogens and made the survival rate of those soldiers higher.


5. There’s a species of bacteria so resistant to radiation that scientists have nicknamed it “Conan the Bacterium”.

6: The strongest creatures on Earth are gonorrhea bacteria. They can pull 100,000 times their own body weight.


7: In 2013, a bacteria was found in New Zealand that's resistant to every single antibiotic known.


8:  The "smell of rain" is caused by bacteria called actinomycetes.


9: Mobile phones have 18 times more bacteria than toilet handles


10:  Sweat itself is odorless. It's the bacteria on the skin that mingles with it and produces body odor.


11: Most antibiotics are made from bacteria


12: There are more than 100,000 bacteria on each tooth.


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