From Blue Cheese To Dirt, How Beautiful Bacteria Can Be

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via Wbur : If you’ve followed all the buzz about the microbiome in recent years, you already know that you have more bacterial cells than human cells in your body. You’re basically a walking mountain of bugs. And you may as well set your last remnants of human hubris aside: This is a microbial world, as Harvard microbiologists Scott Chimileski and Roberto Kolter write in their new book, “Life at the Edge of Sight.”

But here’s some comfort. Though the bacteria that rule our world are normally too small to see, they can be quite beautiful — when viewed through the right lenses.

Chimileski and Kolter use such lenses — not just camera lenses, but conceptual ones. Microbes are not just “germs,” they write. They are the foundation for all life on earth. And they’re our life partners to this day, from the bacteria in our gut that help digest our food to the microbes in the ocean that produce most of the oxygen we breathe.

“The emerging view is that microbes play very important roles in almost every aspect of life on the planet,” the authors write, “with the added recognition that science has just barely scratched the surface in studying the mysteries of the microbial world.”

So microbes comprise a major scientific frontier. It can seem, however, like very abstract territory if you imagine it populated by teeny tiny anonymous blobs. (Or at best, if you’ve studied germs, the rods of cholera and the spheres of strep.) So, below, the authors share 10 of their images, at various levels of magnification, showing both the beauty and the complexity of our microbial neighbors.

A biofilm, or colony of bacteria, can be beautiful but dangerous. This one is made up of bacteria that normally cause no harm, but can infect burn wounds or the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients. About the size of a dime, this biofilm developed in about a week. (Courtesy Scott Chimileski and Roberto Kolter)
A biofilm, or colony of bacteria, can be beautiful but dangerous. This one is made up of bacteria that normally cause no harm, but can infect burn wounds or the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients. About the size of a dime, this biofilm developed in about a week. (Courtesy Scott Chimileski and Roberto Kolter)

 

A cross-section of Boston-area tree lichen shows the symbiosis inside. The red cells are algae cells that collect energy from the sun through photosynthesis; the blue filaments are fungi that live off the algae. (Courtesy Scott Chimileski and Roberto Kolter)
A cross-section of Boston-area tree lichen shows the symbiosis inside. The red cells are algae cells that collect energy from the sun through photosynthesis; the blue filaments are fungi that live off the algae. (Courtesy Scott Chimileski and Roberto Kolter)

 

Colonies of different types of bacteria and fungi -- some that produce antibiotics -- and many that naturally produce pigments. Each colony is made of millions of individual microbial cells. (Courtesy Scott Chimileski and Roberto Kolter)
Colonies of different types of bacteria and fungi — some that produce antibiotics — and many that naturally produce pigments. Each colony is made of millions of individual microbial cells. (Courtesy Scott Chimileski and Roberto Kolter)

 

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Koji, a type of fungus microbe used to make sake, soy sauce and miso, sends out spores — the little circles coming off of the big stalk — to create new colonies. (Courtesy Scott Chimileski and Roberto Kolter)

 

As it grows, a bacterial colony migrates across a plate and creates branching patterns as it goes. There may be as many as a trillion microbial species on Earth. (Courtesy Scott Chimileski and Roberto Kolter)
As it grows, a bacterial colony migrates across a plate and creates branching patterns as it goes. There may be as many as a trillion microbial species on Earth. (Courtesy Scott Chimileski and Roberto Kolter)

 

Plankton from a Maine tidal pool include a wide variety of microorganisms. The starship-shaped orange one in the middle is a copepod, a tiny crustacean. (Courtesy Scott Chimileski)
Plankton from a Maine tidal pool include a wide variety of microorganisms. The starship-shaped orange one in the middle is a copepod, a tiny crustacean. (Courtesy Scott Chimileski)

 

A fungus colony produces water droplets as it grows. (This colony was actually a contaminant on another Petri plate, but a beautiful one.) (Courtesy Scott Chimileski and Roberto Kolter)
A fungus colony produces water droplets as it grows. (This colony was actually a contaminant on another Petri plate, but a beautiful one.) (Courtesy Scott Chimileski and Roberto Kolter)

 

These elongated coral cells live in symbiosis with the round algae cells. The spirals inside the coral cells are spring-loaded mechanisms used for defense and capturing food. (Courtesy Scott Chimileski and Roberto Kolter)
These elongated coral cells live in symbiosis with the round algae cells. The spirals inside the coral cells are spring-loaded mechanisms used for defense and capturing food. (Courtesy Scott Chimileski and Roberto Kolter)

 

Single-celled diatoms are extremely common in many environments. These came from a groove in a pebble the size of a pea. An electron microscope shows them at about 6,000 times their actual size, making it easy to see the glass shell that envelopes them. (Courtesy Scott Chimileski and Roberto Kolter)
Single-celled diatoms are extremely common in many environments. These came from a groove in a pebble the size of a pea. An electron microscope shows them at about 6,000 times their actual size, making it easy to see the glass shell that envelopes them. (Courtesy Scott Chimileski and Roberto Kolter)
bacteria
Kombucha as seen through an electron microscope, magnified about 10,000 times actual size. In the biofilm that floats on the top (also known as a SCOBY — for symbiotic community of bacteria and yeast) criss-crossed cellulose fibers produced by the bacteria mix with the round yeast cells in a complex ecosystem that varies widely around the world. (Courtesy Scott Chimileski and Roberto Kolter)

Source : Wbur | From Blue Cheese To Dirt, How Beautiful Bacteria Can Be

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