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The strange, beautiful and powerful world of microbes


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Title: The strange, beautiful and powerful world of microbes

The strange, beautiful and powerful world of
Microbiology, 2Dairy Cattle Nutrition, 4Animal
Biochemistry, National Dairy Research Institute,
Karnal 132001, (Haryana) 3CAEHS, Meerut (UP),
Anton van Leeuwenhoek - A classical example of
serendipity. By wanting better magnifying lens
with which to judge the quality of the cloth he
was buying Leeuwenhoek discovered bacteria
What Microbiologists Do ???
  • Work in almost every industry - from food,
    agriculture and pollution control to
    biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and health,
    government agencies and labs, in education as
    teachers and researchers.
  • No one microbiologist can study everything!
    That's why people who become microbiologists
    usually focus on a particular microbe or research
  • Bacteriologists focus on bacteria.
  • Virologists specialize in viruses.
  • Mycologists study fungi.
  • Epidemiologists track down outbreaks of disease
  • Immunologists study how the body defends itself
    against microbial invaders?

  • What is a microorganism?
  • An organism that is too small to be seen clearly
    with the naked eye.
  • Generally single cells, but some exist as cell
    clusters often work as a community
  • Where do microbes fit in the biological world?

Microbila cell Efficiency in deficiency
Most of the vital organs of eukaryotes are
The power of microbe lies in its speedy growth
Imagine the weight of biomass of E.coli after 24
hrs under optimal growth?
Never underestimate the power of a Microorganism.
  • Microorganisms, just like God cannot be seen
    through naked eye but we can feel their impact on
    us in various ways.
  • Though only 3 of the total microbial population
    are harmful to the humans.
  • Without knowing, we are getting their help from
    the historic days eg. souring of milk (dahi),
    pickels, jams, dosa and idly making, wine
    production etc.
  • Microbes are always at Work
  • Mind it

  • The pressure inside a bacterial cell is about 2
    atmospheres, which is roughly the same as the
    pressure in a car's tyre.
  • A human can be killed by exposure to less than
    500 rad radiation. However, Deinococcus
    radiodurans is a bacterium, which can survive
    exposure to upto 3000000 rad of ionizing
  • 'Botulin, a toxin produced by Clostridium
    botulinum, is highly toxic and if everyone has to
    be killed on this earth, less than 1kg of this
    toxin will do.

Bacterium as big as the head of a fruitfly and
can even "hold its breath"?
  • A giant bacterium, Thiomargarita "sulfur pearl of
  • The bacteria (3/4 mm wide) about 100 times larger
    than the largest known, Epulopiscum fishelsoni. 
  • Thiomargarita namibiensis  lives on the nitrogen
    and sulfide on the ocean floor produced by
    rotting plankton and algae.
  • Nitrate however is not steadily available, so
    they "hold their breath" while they wait for
    something to stir up off the ocean floor.
  • They do this by storing sulfur just under their
    cell wall, and keeping nitrate in a big sac. This
    could be one of the reasons why the bacterium is
    so big.

A Humongous Fungus
  • Did you ever wonder what the world's largest
    organism is?
  • Maybe you'd pick an elephant or a giant whale.
  • Well, those choices would be wrong this organism
    is actually a soil Fungus, Armillaria bulbosa,
    found in a northern Michigan hardwood forest.
  • It is most likely one of the world's oldest
    organisms as well, exceeding 1,500 years and
    weighing over 100 tons.
  • It is actually a plant pathogen, whose hyphae
    pierce the roots of aspen trees and absorb
    nutrients from them. Therefore, the majority of
    the fungus is underground and only tiny edible
    honey mushrooms.

Facts About Microbes
  • Microbes outnumber all other species and make up
    most living matter (60 of the earths biomass).
  • Less than 0.5 of the estimated 2 to 3 billion
    microbial species have been identified.
  • Microbial cycling of critical chemical elements
    such as carbon and nitrogen helps keep the world
    inhabitable for all life forms.

  • Microbes generate at least half the oxygen we
  • Microbes are roots of life's family tree. An
    understanding of their genomes will help us
    understand how more complex genomes developed.
  • Microbial genomes are modest in size and
    relatively easy to study (usually no more than 10
    million DNA bases, compared with some 3 billion
    in the human and mouse genomes).
  • Microbial communities are excellent models for
    understanding biological interactions and

Strange Facts and Bacterial Records!!!
  • (Omnipresent).
  • Everything is everywhere, the environment selects
    - Beijerinck M.W.
  • Microbes thrive in an amazing diversity of
    habitats in extremes of heat, cold, radiation,
    pressure, salinity, acidity, and darkness, and
    often where no other life forms could exist.

  • Underground Chemolithotrophs found in Basalt
    deposits 1500m (4700 ft) underground in solid
  • The Sky Some bacteria spend their whole lives in
    the atmosphere, growing and reproducing in the
    clouds above our heads.
  • On Ice Some bacterial species live in the ice of
    glaciers and others have often found in the snows
    of the North and South poles at -17 and -85C.

  • Not So Cool Some bacteria have learned to live
    in hot springs. Some species are happy at 75C
    while others think even this is cool. Species of
    Aquifex can live in water as hot as 95C. Archaea
    are happy to grow deep sea hydrothermal vents at
  • The Deep Sea Bacteria known as Extreme
    Barophiles live at depths of gt10000 m and are
    able to survive pressures in excess of 1000 times
    the air pressure at sea level and they cannot
    function properly at pressures less than 400
    atmospheres and may die in a couple of hours if
    brought to the surface.

Life in the extremes
Sahara desert
Life in the extremes
Yellowstone National park
Life in the extremes
Lake Magadi, Tansania
Life in the extremes
Yellowstone National Park
Life in the extremes
Life in the extremes
  • Fast Movers Some bacteria can move by flagella
    that enable them to obtain speeds as high as
    0.00017 km/ hr. This may not seem very fast, but
    remember that we are talking about very small
    organisms. They are travelling at about 50-60
    body lengths/ sec which is equivalent to a 6 ft
    tall man running at 100 m/ sec, 9 times faster
    than the world record. Cheetahs, are the fastest
    animals on land but even they only move at about
    25 body lengths/ sec.
  • What is soil, becomes grass, becomes a cow,
    becomes you and me and then becomes soil again.
    Without microbes, the whole ecosystem would

Facts About Beneficial Bacteria
  • The opposite of antibiotics are probiotics - a
    term coined in 1965 to describe substances that
    favor the growth of beneficial microorganisms in
    the body.
  • Two species of probiotics, Bifidobacterium and
    Lactobacillus, have been studied the most.
  • Bacteria that produce the enzyme lactase help
    reduce lactose intolerance.
  • Tell me what you eat,
  • and I will tell you what you are - Brillat-Savarin

Learn a lot from a microbe
  • Halobacterium, may hold the key to protect
    astronauts from one of the greatest threats they
    would face during a mission to Mars space
  • The harsh radiation of interplanetary space can
    penetrate astronauts' bodies, damaging the DNA in
    their cells, which can cause cancer and other
  • Halobacterium appears to be a master of the
    complex art of DNA repair. This mastery is what
    scientists want to learn from.

Serratia has a religious history and can cause
severe infections in humans?
  • Serratia marcescens, when grown in colonies,
    produces a bright red pigment similar to the
    appearance of blood. 
  • In mediaeval churches priests would discover that
    bread left in moist places would "miraculously"
    produce this "blood", thus leading to the belief
    that the bread's red appearance was because it
    had been stabbed by unbelieving Jews. 
  • In 1819 Bartolemeo Bizio, a pharmacist,
    discovered that the red pigment occurred because
    of bacteria.

Martian microbes may exist ?
  • Life On Mars??? No one knows for sure yet!
  • But in August 1996, scientists announced that
    they had extracted what they believed to be
    fossils of an unknown bacillus shaped
    microorganism from inside a meteorite from Mars
    found in Antarctica..
  • The meteorite left Mars 16 million years ago and
    landed in Antarctica 13 thousand years ago. 
  • This may support the theory that life did or does
    still exist on Mars!
  • Wow! Life on the Red Planet!
  • We are not alone! Or are we?

Shergotty, Bihar, India (1865)
Mars - Climate and Life
Postulated Mars-Biosphere
Mars-Climate and Life
Liquid water only in deep subsurface regions
Life either extinct or in subsurface niches
Mars from Pathfinder
Life on Europa? Moon of Jupiter
Antarctica, 1984
Bacteria sometimes catch A Virus
Bacteriophages bacteria-eaters,
viruses that use bacteria to
multiply In the 1990s, bacteriophage research
became an alternative for scientists worried
about antibiotic resistance. Researchers in
America followed the example of scientists in
Western Europe who were treating patients with
bacteriophages and obtaining great results. When
antibiotics don't work for a bacterial infection,
doctors can use bacteriophages to kill the
bacteria. Although ironic, a virus can make us
feel better!
Microbes enables cows to eat grass?
  • Microbes living in the rumen of the cow are
    responsible for the breakdown of the carbohydrate
    cellulose of plants. 
  • The cow lacks the enzymes to break down
  • Without microbes and their enzymes, ruminants
    would not be able to derive
    any energy or nutrients
    from a diet of grass. 

Microbes have a built-in compass?
  • Aquatic, anaerobic bacteria called magnetotactic
    bacteria find their way around by using the
    attraction from the earth's magnetic field. 
  • When placed near a magnet, they are attracted to
    the magnet's northern pole because the bacteria
    make magnetic particles which contain iron.
  • When lined-up, the particles make a long magnet
    that is used by the bacteria as a compass. 
  • It is this built-in compass that enables the
    bacteria to find its way down to the deep,
    oxygen-free parts of its aquatic habitat.

Diamonds are made from dead bacteria???
  • Carbon, the main component of most diamonds,
    usually contains an isotope of light carbon
    (12C), which is utilized by some living
  • Therefore, eclogitic diamonds with large amounts
    of the isotope 12C, are believed to have an
    organic origin. 
  • These were formed from carbon near hydrothermal
    vents which was also utilized by the bacterial
    communities near the vents. 
  • Thus through time, heat and pressure were able to
    turn the carbon along with the bacterial colonies
    into diamonds.
  • "So, those sparklers of yours may just be clumps
  • of billion-year-old bacterial corpses"

Microbial Jugnu Bacteria that emit visible
  • Lightning bugs make light, but interestingly
    enough, bacteria produce light in basically the
    same process called bioluminescence.
  • Luciferase - uses molecular oxygen and a
    protein that has a particular vitamin FMNH2
    attached to it. 
  • Luciferase - causes oxidation reaction to occur
    between oxygen and vitamin leading to the
    conversion from FMNH2 to FMN. 
  • As this occurs, luciferin emits visible light! 
  • The color of light (orange, yellow, yellow-green,
    or blue-green ) depends on the kind of luciferase
    and amount of oxidation of the vitamin attached
    to the luciferin. 

Enzymes that bacteria use to break down dead,
chilled whales may be used in cold-water
  • The cold temperature slows the rate of biological
    decay and in a whale, the oil-laden bones are the
    last things to be decomposed by bacteria at depth
    of 3300 feet. 
  • The detergent industry's current fat-digesting
    enzymes are only effective in warm water, 105ºF. 
  • Therefore, in cold water the enzymes do not gulp
    up oil or grease.  Hence, a tremendous amount of
    energy savings could be obtained when using a
    cold-water enzyme that worked on stains. 

Microbes can degrade explosives?
  • Trinitrotoluene, TNT, is a problematic explosive
    that contaminates the soil in areas where
    ammunition is kept. 
  • Bacteria named Clostridium bifermentans is able
    to break down this contaminant. 
  • When provided with starch as energy source, the
    bacteria can break down the TNT through
    co-metabolism by broken-down TNT as a source of

Bacteria can help clean up oil spills?
  • After the Exxon Valdez crashed off the shore of
    Alaska, spilling its contents all over the area,
    one of the biggest contributors to cleaning up
    the environment was Pseudomonas. 
  • Scientists found that by feeding the contaminated
    area with oxygen and waste water, the bacteria
    present there were provided with the nutrients
    needed to flourish, thereby encouraging the break
    down of hydrocarbons within crude oil by
  • The hydrocarbon that the bacterium feasts on are
    converted to carbon dioxide and water. 

Microbes might be used to breakdown dirty laundry
on long space flights?
  • One of the problems that would be encountered,
    which is now one of the problems with the Russian
    space station Mir, is the disposal of dirty
  • Presently, there are only two supply trips a year
    to Mir, so six months of stockpiling doesn't work
    too well. 
  • Russian scientists are working on developing a
    mixture of bacteria that could be used to
    biodegrade dirty underwear.

Bacteria keep vegetables fresher?
  • Even vegetables that are kept in airtight
    containers are prone to spoilage by E.coli and
  • Lactic acid bacteria, are an alternative solution
    to this problem by producing natural acids that
    prevent Listeria from growing in foods.

Bacteria are used to make chocolate?
  • Chocolate comes from the seeds of the Cacao
  • The seeds come in pods and the only way to
    retrieve the seeds are to ferment them with
    yeasts and lactobacilli and Acetobacter. 
  • The Lactobacillus secretes an acid to help break
    apart the pod.

Microbes can make plastics ?
  • Alcaligenes eutrophus, is a useful bacterium
    having the capability of making plastics. 
  • The bacterium is able to accomplish this feat
    because it has granules that are made of a
    fat-like polymer and not starch, like the
    granules of other bacteria. 
  • These plastics can be readily degraded and
    hopefully will pose less environmental threat. 
  • There are strong hopes of using these bacteria
    and their plastics for medical purposes.

Microbes are all over your skin?
  • While bacteria are found on your fingers, toes,
    arms and legs they are far more numerous on your
  • They are found above and below the surface of
    your skin and are in no way harmful.  
  • However, all teenagers have had at least one zit
    in their lifetime, are called pimples,
    blackheads, whiteheads, blemishes, acne, etc.
  • And while bacteria are not the cause for zits
    they do inhabit those little imperfections.  So,
    the next time you pop your pimple you must know
    that you are unleashing an army of microbes.

Microbes cause body odor? 
  • The sweat that comes out of your underarms
    actually does not smell bad. 
  • The reason that people give off odors when they
    sweat in their underarms is that bacteria living
    there like to eat sweat, and as a result produce
    waste products that cause it to smell. 
  • Body odor can be eliminated by using deoderant. 
  • Deoderant kills the bacteria under your arms so
    that it cannot make your sweat stink. 
  • So don't forget your deoderant it does more
    than just mask body odor, it stops it before it

Sick Building Syndrome?
  • Fumes from certain construction materials in
    buildings e.g. malls, are responsible for giving
    people severe headaches. 
  • Microbes living in potted plants eliminate Sick
    Building Syndrome by degrading the fumes.
  • However, suffering people may be glad to know
    that helpful bacteria can solve their problem.

Mycobacterium tuberculosis is the literary
  • Famous writers like Keats, Browning, Austen and
    Orwell have all suffered from tuberculosis and
    because of this the microbe has been called the
    literary microbe. 
  • Tuberculosis is also considered to be the
    greatest killer of all times. About one hundred
    thousand million people have been affected. This
    bacterium is transmitted through air or infected

Microbes form fossils?
  • In 1950's-1960's, micropaleontologists discovered
    layers of sedimentary rocks, wavelike
    stromatolites in Great Lakes, are believed to
    contain microbial fossils. 
  • Some fossils are 3.5 billion years old, meaning
    that they were formed only one billion years
    after the creation of the Earth indicating that
    microbes are the earliest forms of life on Earth.

There's a "Sleeping Beauty" story for bacteria?
  • In May 1995, scientists were the prince as they
    revived 25-40 million year-old bacteria from the
    stomach of a bee that was preserved in tree sap. 
  • It was this event that led to the notion of
    Spielberg's Jurassic Park, where dinosaurs were
    created after their DNA was extracted from
    mosquitoes trapped in tree sap the same way. 
  • The dinosaurs, however, were the ones who took
    the limelight away from the bacteria on the movie

How Does Salmonella Get Inside Chicken Eggs?
  • The bacterium actually lives in the feces of
  • Because chickens sit on their eggs, even before
    they are collected for consumer purchases, the
    eggs may be subjected to the bacterium.
  • It was found that S. enteritidis could actually
    penetrate the hard outer shell of the egg and
    live inside the yolk, where it can reproduce.
  • The bacterium could infect hens' ovaries, and
    contaminate the egg before it even developed a

Infected rats make easy cat snacks
  • Toxoplasma gondii, a parasitic infection in rats,
    alters their natural behaviour and makes them
    easy prey for cats.
  • Toxoplasma gondii is found in about 35 of rats
    but prefers to live in cats.
  • It ensures its return to its favourite host by
    affecting the brains of the normally cautious
    rats, making them outgoing and active and an easy
    meal for a hungry cat.
  • Rats can usually detect subtle changes in their
    environment. It makes them very hard to trap or
    poison but this parasite overrides the innate
    response - they almost taunt the cats in a sense
    (remember Tom n Jerry ???).

Caught Dirty-Handed!!!
  • When was the last time you washed your hands?
  • Did you use soap?
  • What have you done since you washed?
  • Have you eaten, put your fingers in your mouth or
    touched someone else?
  • There are millions of microbes on your hands.
    Most are naturally occurring and harmless. But
    some may be disease-causing germs. Hand washing
    with soap lifts off those microbes and rinses
    them away.
  • Observations in public restrooms reveals what?????

Bacteria can help give your jeans the right fade
  • Alkalothermophilic Thermomonospora produces
    enzyme cellulase, which when mixed with a coarse
    denim cloth reduces its hairiness and makes it
    softer and lighter.
  • It gives same appearance as a stone wash, causes
    no damage to drums of washing machines by
    preventing wear and tear of the material.
  • Finish can be controlled to desired level by
    controlling the amount of enzyme.

Bacteria can act as insecticides? 
  • The first major products of agricultural
    biotechnology was Bacillus thuringiensis,
    producing proteins that are toxic to many
  • Now, scientists have spliced genes of it into
    crops, that produces toxins fatal to crop
    damaging pests, but harmless to "good" bugs.

Thanks for your kind attention