bacteria

Not Exactly Rocket Science

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We all know that as we type on our keyboards or click our mice, we leave behind fingerprints that could be used to deduce our identities. But these prints aren’t the only remnants of our presence. Bacteria from our skins also linger on the things we touch and they could act as a sort of…

The Not Exactly Pocket Science experiment continues after the vast majority of people who commented liked the pilot post. I’m really enjoying this, for quite unexpected reasons. It’s forcing me to flex writing muscles that usually don’t get much of a workout. Writing short pieces means being far more economical with language and detail than…

The bacterial zoo in your bowel

You are outnumbered by a factor of 10 to one, by forces you cannot see. Your body has around ten trillion cells, but it’s also home to a hundred trillion bacteria. For every gene in your genome, there are 100 bacterial ones. Most of these are found the dark, dank environment of your bowel but…

Hardly a natural history documentary goes by without some mention of leafcutter ants. So overexposed are these critters that I strongly suspect they’re holding David Attenborough’s relatives to ransom somewhere. But there is good reason for their fame – these charismatic insects are incredibly successful because of their skill as gardeners. As their name suggests,…

Viruses and bacteria often act as parasites, infecting a host, reproducing at its expense and causing disease and death. But not always – sometimes, their infections are positively beneficial and on rare occasions, they can actually defend their hosts from parasitism rather than playing the role themselves. In the body of one species of aphid,…

When the bacteria that cause anthrax (Bacillus anthracis) aren’t ravaging livestock or being used in acts of bioterrorism, they spend their lives as dormant spores. In these inert but hardy forms, the bacteria can weather tough environmental conditions while lying in wait for their next host. This is the standard explanation for what B.anthracis does…

In the darkness of the deep ocean, some animals create their own light. Among these is the Hawaiian bobtail squid Euprymna scolopes, which forms a partnership with the luminous bacterium Vibrio fischeri. The squid houses colonies of these bacteria in special light organs, and it can control the brightness and direction of their illuminations. But…

It’s a diverse melting-pot of different groups, with hundreds of different cultures living together in harmony, many sticking to their own preferred areas. No, not London, New York or any other cosmopolitan city; I’m talking about your skin. It may all look the same to you, but to the bacteria living on it, it’s an…

Antarctica normally conjures images of white and blue, but the frozen continent can sometimes bear more unexpected colours. Take the Taylor Glacier – when geologist Griffith Taylor first explored it a century ago, he found a bizarre reddish stain that seemed to spill waterfall-like from the glacier’s snout. The area became evocatively known as Blood…

This is the fifth of eight posts on evolutionary research to celebrate Darwin’s bicentennial. Life can sometimes be a futile contest. Throughout the natural world, pairs of species are locked in an evolutionary arms race where both competitors must continuously evolve new adaptations just to avoid ceding ground. Any advantage is temporary as every adaptive…