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Might of the Microbes

Might of the Microbes

by VR Sreeraman on August 18, 2009 at 1:19 PM
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Might of the Microbes

As humans it is natural for us to think the world of ourselves but in doing so we face the risk of obscuring the vast majority of co- habiting creatures, mostly the single-celled kind, that abound on our planet Earth. However the current pandemic of the swine flu virus H1N1 has brought the world of microbes into sharp focus.

Several of these tiny creatures called 'micro-organisms' languish in anonymity and are little known. But they are the proud owners of remarkable qualities, including intelligence, that put them (well almost) on par with the mighty humans.

The microbes exhibit a sturdiness that far excels any other forms of life -they thrive in conditions that would 'knock out' other creatures instantly. One of the mechanism they adopt to face these extreme conditions is by hibernating for thousands of years and to reappear when condition are favorable.

Many single- celled organisms exhibit intelligence of a kind not seen in other animals of the animal kingdom - they neither have nervous systems nor brains and are hence not capable of conscious thoughts. But they harbor an internal machinery that can be equated to a 'biological computer'.

Micro Speak


Did u ever think that Bacteria are capable of speaking their mind? Well it appears that they do!

But the catch here is that they communicate only with fellow bacteria for reasons pertaining to their collective survival.

Bacteria speak differently for a number of reasons. They use chemicals to express what is on their mind as is exhibited by the bacteria Bacillus subtilis.

If B.subtilis happens to exist in an area where food is scarce it wards off fellow bacterial contestants by releasing chemicals - as a way of saying 'stay clear '! Being intelligent themselves the neighboring bacteria comply to the command and set up home further away.

Bacterio - Brigade


A lot many micro- organisms are endowed with a trait called "quorum sensing" which helps them to assess how many other bacteria are present in their vicinity.

Quorum sensing is carried out by releasing small doses of a chemical into the immediate ambience-these chemical signals can be picked up with the help of receptors on the bacterial outer cell wall.

When a sizable number of these bacteria are present, the level of this chemical can escalate to an 'all time high' bringing about a change in the behavior of these microbes.

This ability often results in disease causing (pathogenic) bacteria to gather in sufficient numbers and to launch an attack on an unsuspecting host organism.

Interfering with the signals emanating from these bacteria could perhaps be a way of overpowering these miniscule creatures.

Partners in Slime

The above mentioned qualities gives us an insight into the co-operativeness of the microbes but it is also an indicator of their ability to live as a community.

Different species of bacteria coexist by feeding on one another's waste, agreeing to cooperate in matters of food resources and protecting each other from life- threatening agents such as antibiotics.

Colonies of bacteria appear as thin, slimy layers more often seen inside water pipes or other dirty surfaces. Human digestive tract is another favorite haunt - they thrive in places where there is plenty of water.

Stress Beating Strategy


The microbes' ability to mutate (alter their DNA) is only too well known - which is why it is impossible for humans to totally vanquish them.

It has also been realized that many microbes actually speed up the rate at which they undergo these mutations (especially during adverse conditions) in order to obtain additional abilities.

This turns out to be a last minute attempt - part of a do-or-die strategy - as such an event has the potential to fatally harm the organism itself.

On Memory's Trail


Microbes are also known to navigate long distances in search of recourses, much like the migratory birds.

Chlamydomonas navigate toward sunlight in order to use it for photosynthesis. The ubiquitous E.coli are easily provoked at the trigger of food. Some bacteria are more sensitive to the earth's magnetic field while others are equipped with the intelligence to find the shortest way through a complicated maze.

There are amoeba such as Dictyostelium that remembers which way it turned last during its search for food. The amazing bacteria E.coli, which infests the digestive tract of humans, encounters a range of milieu during its existence.

During its gastronomic journey E.coli first feeds on lactose (a type of sugar) and then encounters maltose (another sugar). Even as it is feasting on lactose this bacteria switches on its maltose-dealing machinery as a part of its preparedness. Isn't it amazing for a teenie - weenie bacterium living a tumultuous existence within the human gut!

It can be inferred that size does not matter in matters of life - what matters is 'how equipped are you'?

Source: Medindia
Dr. Reeja Tharu/S

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