A Brief Introduction To Bacteria
Bacteria are microscopic, single-celled organisms. Most bacteria are approximately a few microns (millionths of a meter [1 yard = 0.914 meters]) in length, and occupy a very wide range of habitats. Bacteria can be found inhabiting territories ranging from deep-sea vents to the tops of mountains to the frozen depths of glacierseven in our stomach as H. Pylori bacteria. While bacteria have caused some of our most terrible diseases, most are completely harmless, and some are truly beneficial. For example, yogurt and cheese would certainly not be the same without bacteria, and some bacteria that inhabit the human intestinal tract manufacture products (such as vitamin K) that are essential for normal physiology.
Bacteria are also essential components of the ecosystem. By degrading dead material they recycle nutrients and minerals back into the environment. Some are even capable of taking nitrogen from the air, thereby replenishing soil with nitrogen that can be taken up by plants. However, certain bacteria such as Yersinia pestis (which causes the plague), Clostridium botulinum (which causes botulism), and Vibrio cholerae (which causes cholera) are also pathogenic and have been a source of suffering and death throughout human history. As opposed to viral infections, however, most bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics, which has virtually eliminated many of mankind’s most feared and fatal diseases from our everyday lives.