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Mind Blowing Facts they never taught you in school - Part 6 (Microbes)

Updated on September 4, 2015
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An avid reader, crazy about knowledge. Believes each day has something new to teach. Passionate collector of facts of the world and beyond.

The small world

You do whatever the hell you want. Build whatever, destroy whatever, eat whatever, dump wherever. You do this because you belong to the efficient species of the planet. Granted, most efficient in destroying it. But why wouldn't you? Why wouldn't do as you feel, You own this planet.

Or do you?

No matter how much you scrub and scour, there are, and always will be about 1 trillion bacteria feeding off the ten billion flakes of skin that you shed everyday. Not to mention the yummy sweat and oil seeping out of the pores of your skin. Yes, you are the ultimate food court for micro-organisms, available 24*7 and absolutely free of cost.
These organisms might be minute but make no mistake, Earth belongs to them, and you are on this planet only because they allow you to be.

Today we'll discover some super amazing facts of the very small world.

  • There are about a hundred trillion microbes, of four hundred different types living inside your stomach. Most of them have specific tasks, extremely important from your point of view. Without them, you won't be alive.
    However quite a big number of them do no work at all. They just like to be with the awesome person that you are.
  • Bacteria are a big part of a human being's existence. Humans, I am afraid, are a rather small part of them. In fact, they don't really need us at all. They did fine on their own for billions of years before we came into existence, and will continue to do so after the sun explodes and blows human ass to eternity.

  • Without bacteria we cannot convert nitrogen into nucleotides and amino acids unless we heat the source materials to Five Hundred degrees centigrade, and then squeeze them to Three Hundred times the normal pressure. Bacteria on the other hand are doing it right now, effortlessly. But you are free to open your own factory.
  • In a single day a single bacterial cell can produce 280,000 billion individuals. And once every million divisions, it is estimated that it produces a super-bacteria with some accidental advantage. Like say, to fend off or be resistant to antibiotics. Which is not good news for humans, and it gets worse. Bacteria can share information. They can take up genetic coding from their fellas. It is almost as if a human could go to a bird and copy paste its wings on his own back.

  • You may have associated micro-organisms exclusively with diseases. And you wouldn't be wrong in doing so. They are fantastically efficient in killing, as we'll see soon, but, a point to ponder is that most micro-organisms are beneficial to human well-being. A bacterium known as wolbachia is a stone cold killer, ruthless to shrimps, worms and fruit flies, but doesn't harm humans at all. There is no point killing a host as good as a human, you see. Which is why, terrible epidemics that have killed several thousand humans miraculously disappeared as mysteriously as they came. They probably realised slaughtering resourceful hosts such as us wasn't a good idea after all. Usually they don't mean much harm though. Usually.
  • But sometimes it happens, that accidentally, a microbe that typically lives in a particular part of human body, reaches some other part. This is when it goes totally nuts. An infectious disease specialist Bryan Marsh had said "It happens all the time with car accidents when people suffer internal injuries. Microbes that are generally harmless in the gut get into other parts of the body, typically the bloodstream and cause terrible havoc."
  • There's a disease called necrotizing fasciitis. This is THE most horrible disease caused when a family of bacteria called Group A Streptococcus which normally cause strep throat at the most, for reasons unknown, drops from the lining of the throat to the proper body and completely devours its victim. Literally. Eats the host inside out. When these patients are opened up for surgery it is found that they are simply being consumed. The only way of operation is to completely sever and throw away the infected body part, most of the time resulting in death or terrible disfigurement.

The Incredible Slug

Organisms called myxomycetes, typically known as slime molds, are the most difficult group of organisms to categorize. Neither are they plants, nor animals, and yet they are both.

Under favourable conditions, they live as unicellular organisms much like the amoeba.

This is what they look like in happy hour
This is what they look like in happy hour

But when times get tough, they come together, regroup and unbelievably transform into a slug. Now that might be nothing compared to a shiny truck clinking and bolting all the way to Optimus Prime but that is fiction. This is fact my friend, and has been so for millions of years.

But wait, the madness doesn't stop there.

When the slug has hauled ass to a more favourable condition, its cells miraculously start reconfiguring. Can you believe that it starts producing its own chlorophyll and carry out photosynthesis to turn sunlight into energy? It is absolute sorcery!

In the image below, the bulb atop is called the fruiting body. It contains millions of spores, that on a windy day, blow away to become single celled myxomycetes and the cycle begins all over again.

Referenced from A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson.

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