• Prokaryote – single-celled organisms that lack a nucleus • 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 Bacteria – 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 world: – 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 peptidoglycan • 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 solution) – 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 vents

• 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 organisms – 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 organisms – 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 poisoning) – 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, etc.

– 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 – spherical cell

Cell shapes

• Bacillus
– bacilli, plural – rod-like cell

• Coccobacilli
– cells in between round and rod shape

• Vibrio
– curved cell

• Not all cells fit into these neat categories
– For example, some square and triangular Archaea cells have been discovered

• Spirillum
– spirilla, plural – rigid, wave-like shaped cell

• Pleomorphism
– variation in cell shape within a species of bacteria

• Spirochete
– Corkscrew shaped cells

Three Domains of Life

The Scale of Life

“Typical” Prokaryotic Cell

“Typical” eukaryotic cell

Types of bacterial cell wall/membrane complexes


Exponential growth

Growth video


Viruses and Bacteriophages