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• Prokaryote – single-celled organisms that lack a

• Generally referred to as “microbes” or “bugs”
• Two Domains: Archaea and Bacteria
• The overwhelming majority of the prokaryotes you have
experience with on a daily basis are from the Domain
– Therefore, we will be mostly speaking of Bacteria
• Cells Alive! Magnification Interactive
• Scale of Life Diagram
• Length scales commonly used in to describe the microbial
– Micrometer (µm)
• otherwise known as the micron
• 10-6 meter
– Nanometer (nm)
• 10-9 meter
• Bacterial cells range in size from 10 – 100 µm
– There have been some recent discoveries that put the
size up to 500 – 1000 µm
• Size is limited by fact that cells rely on diffusion to
transport materials into and out of the cell
Shapes and Cell Types
• Microbes come in a not so wide variety of shapes
• Diagram of shapes of Bacteria
• Bacteria and Archaea are single celled organisms, so all
of the processes of life are contained within each
individual cell
– Tree of Life diagram
– “Typical” prokaryotic cell diagram
• There are microbial or single-celled eukaryotes, which
we will discuss in more detail later
– “Typical” eukaryotic cell diagram
Cell Walls!
• Found on the outside of the cell membrane
• Functions of the cell wall:
– Maintains the characteristics shape of the bacterium (without cell
wall, cell assumes spherical shape)
– Maintains cellular integrity when under osmotic stress
• Periplasmic space – gap between the plasma
membrane and the cell wall
– Storage area for digestive enzymes (destroy toxins) and
transport proteins (move important chemicals into the cell)
• Principal component of certain cell membranes is
• Embedded in the cell wall is the flagellum (molecular
motion that propels the cell); a cell can have more than
one flagellum (then it has flagella)
– Flagellum diagram
Variations on the cell wall theme
• Gram-positive bacteria
– Plasma membrane is covered in a thick layer of
peptidoglycan (~40 layers thick) that can range
between 20-80 nm across
– 60-90% of cell wall is peptidoglycan
– Name based on retention of Gram stain (iodine
– Appears purple in color
Variations on the cell wall theme
• Gram-negative bacteria
– Thinner, more complex cell wall than G+
– Only 10-20% of cell wall is peptidoglycan
– Remainder: polysaccharides, proteins, and lipids
– Most significantly, cell wall is covered in a lipid bilayer
– Large periplasmic space
– Do not stain with Gram stain, hence Gram-
– Appears red in color
• Heterotrophs – consume food made by producers
– Chemoheterotrophs – energy and nutrients from
organic compounds (humans are examples of this type
of metabolism)
– Photoheterotrophs – energy from sunlight and use
organic compounds for nutrients
• Autotrophs – make their own food
– Photoautotrophs – similar to photosynthesis in plants,
but no 02 is produced; light = energy, organic and
inorganic compounds used for nutrients
– Chemoautotrophs – use inorganic substances to gain
energy instead of sunlight; inorganic chemicals =
energy, organic and inorganic compounds used for
nutrients. Typical examples found in hydrothermal
• Prokaryotes can be separated based on their need for,
tolerance of, or aversion to oxygen
• Obligate aerobes – organisms that can only grow in the
presence of oxygen
– ex. Bacteria that infect the respiratory system of humans;
microorganisms that live in the water column of lakes, rivers, and
the ocean
• Facultative anaerobes – organisms that can grow in both
in the presence and the absence of oxygen
– ex. Bacteria in the human intestines can be exposed to a range of
conditions from fully oxygenated (near the stomach) to completely
without oxygen (further into the intestines); an example of this type
of organism is E. coli.
• Obligate anaerobes – can only grow in environments
where there is no oxygen
– ex. deep wounds on skin (hence the awful smell); deep in the soil
and sediments; in certain parts of sewage treatment plants
Growth and Reproduction
• Bacterial cells grow at exponential rates when given the
right amounts of nutrients
– Exponential growth diagram
– This can translate into a doubling of the population every
20 minutes!
• The model of growth of bacteria is typically referred to as
binary fission
– This is an asexual process and therefore lacks exchange
of genetic material
• Bacteria can and do exchange genetic material
– Conjugation – transfer of genes from one cell to
another (Conjugation diagram)
– Increases genetic diversity of a population
Bacteria in Nature
• Decomposers
– Bacteria play a critical role in nature by recycling dead
– Nutrients in dead organisms can then be reused, instead
of accumulating
– Require the right mix of the following variables for
maximum decomposition to occur:
• Temperature
• Gas availability for terminal electron accepting (O2 is
the best)
• Water
– Widely used by humans to process dead materials to get
rid of them or to recycle them
Bacteria in Nature
• Nitrogen Fixation
– Bacteria play a critical role in nature bringing “new”
nitrogen into the biosphere
– Lots of N2 gas in the atmosphere, but very few
organisms can capture it for use
– Certain bacterial species can “fix” the N2 into NH3
(ammonia) or other nitrogen compounds
– Once “fixed” the nitrogen can be used by other
– Legumes – plants that harbor nitrogen fixing bacteria in
root nodules
• These root nodules are functionally equal to having
fertilizer factory in your roots
Bacteria in Nature
• Bacteria and Disease
– Not all bacteria cause disease, but some do. These few
“bad” bugs give bacteria the group name of “germs”
– Pathogen – disease causing agent
– Two general ways a pathogen can operate:
• Break down tissues for food (ex. Tuberculosis)
• Release toxins that harm the host (ex. Food
– Many bacteria can be killed or kept in check with
antibiotics or vaccines
• However, there is a rising problem with bacteria that
are resistant to our drugs (Imagine that! A bacterium
that doesn’t want to die).
Bacteria in Nature
• Human Uses of Bacteria
– Many food products are made or modified through the
action of microorganisms
• Cheese, yogurt, buttermilk, sour cream, pickles, chocolate, tofu,
– Bacteria can also be used in industry to clean up toxic
waste and to help recover gold
– Bacteria can also be used to make medicines
– “Bio-prospecting” – looking for medicinally an industrially
important biological products
Bacteria in Nature
• Controlling Bacteria
– Sterilization – the killing or removal of all
microorganisms in a material or on an object
• High and low temperature
• High pressure
• Certain chemicals (including antibiotics if taken according to
Doctor’s directions)
– Disinfection – the reduction of the total number of
pathogenic microorganisms to the point that they pose
no danger
• Soap and water
• Bleach
• Lysol
• Coccus
– cocci, plural Cell shapes
– spherical cell
• Bacillus
– bacilli, plural
– rod-like cell
• Coccobacilli
– cells in between round and rod
shape • Not all cells fit into these
• Vibrio neat categories
– curved cell – For example, some square
and triangular Archaea
• Spirillum cells have been
– spirilla, plural discovered
– rigid, wave-like shaped cell • Pleomorphism
• Spirochete – variation in cell shape
– Corkscrew shaped cells within a species of
Three Domains of Life
The Scale of Life
“Typical” Prokaryotic Cell
“Typical” eukaryotic cell
Types of bacterial
cell wall/membrane

Growth video
Viruses and