Benefits and dangers
Bacteria are both harmful and useful to the environment, and animals, including humans. The role of bacteria in disease and infection is important. Some bacteria act as pathogens and cause tetanus, typhoid fever, pneumonia, syphilis, cholera, foodborne illness and tuberculosis. Sepsis, a systemic infectious syndrome characterized by shock and massive vasodilation, or localized infection, can be caused by bacteria such as streptococcus, staphylococcus, or many gram-negative bacteria. Some bacterial infections can spread throughout the host's body and become systemic. In plants, bacteria cause leaf spot, fireblight, and wilts. The mode of infection includes contact, air, food, water, and insect-borne microorganisms. The hosts infected with the pathogens may be treated with antibiotics, which can be classified as bacteriocidal and bacteriostatic, which at concentrations that can be reached in bodily fluids either kill bacteria or hamper their growth, respectively. Antiseptic measures may be taken to prevent infection by bacteria, for example, prior to cutting the skin during surgery or swabbing skin with alcohol when piercing the skin with the needle of a syringe. Sterilization of surgical and dental instruments is done to make them sterile or pathogen-free to prevent contamination and infection by bacteria. Sanitizers and disinfectants are used to kill bacteria or other pathogens to prevent contamination and risk of infection.
In soil, microorganisms help in the transformation of nitrogen to ammonia with enzymes secreted by these microbes, which reside in the rhizosphere (a zone that includes the root surface and the soil that adheres to the root after gentle shaking). Some bacteria are able to use molecular nitrogen as their source of nitrogen, converting it to nitrogenous compounds, a process known as nitrogen fixation. Many other bacteria are found as symbionts in humans and other organisms. For example, their presence in the large intestine can help prevent the growth of potentially harmful microbes.
The ability of bacteria to degrade a variety of organic compounds is remarkable. Highly specialized groups of microorganisms play important roles in the mineralization of specific classes of organic compounds. For example, the decomposition of cellulose, which is one of the most abundant constituents of plant tissues, is mainly brought about by aerobic bacteria that belong to the genus Cytophaga.
Bacteria, often in combination with yeasts and molds, are used in the preparation of fermented foods such as cheese, pickles, soy sauce, sauerkraut, vinegar, wine, and yoghurt. Using biotechnology techniques, bacteria can be bioengineered for the production of therapeutic drugs, such as insulin, or for the bioremediation of toxic wastes.
In terms of evolution, bacteria are thought to be very old organisms, appearing about 3.7 billion years ago.
Two organelles, mitochondria and chloroplasts, are generally believed to have been derived from endosymbiotic bacteria.
Microorganisms are widely distributed and are most abundant where they have food, moisture, and the right temperature for their multiplication and growth. Bacteria can be carried by air currents from one place to another. The human body is home to billions of microorganisms; they can be found on skin surfaces, in the intestinal tract, in the mouth, nose, and other body openings. They are in the air one breathes, the water one drinks, and the food one eats.
- Some text in this entry was merged with an article published by Nupedia, written by Nagina Parmar; reviewed and approved by the Biology group; editor, Gaytha Langlois ; lead reviewer, Gaytha Langlois ; lead copyeditors, Ruth Ifcher and Jan Hogle, Entitled Bacteria
- Alcamo, I. Edward. Fundamentals of Microbiology. 5th ed. Menlo Park, California: Benjamin Cumming, 1997.
- Atlas, Ronald M. Principles of Microbiology. St. Louis, Missouri: Mosby, 1995.
- Holt, John.G. Bergey's Manual of Determinative Bacteriology. 9th ed. Baltim
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