Bacteria as Single Cell

The bacteria are tiny single-cell organisms ranging from 0.5–20 mm in size, although some may be smaller, and a few exceed 100 mm in length. The cell wall imparts a characteristic round or ovoid, rod, or spiral shape to the cell. Some bacteria can vary in shape, depending on culture conditions; this is termed pleomorphism. Certain species are further characterized by the arrangement of cells in clusters, chains, or discrete packets.

Some cells produce various pigments that impart a characteristic color to bacterial colonies. The cytoplasm of bacteria may also contain numerous granules of storage materials such as carbohydrates and lipids. Bacteria can contain plasmids that are pieces of genetic material existing outside the main genome. Plasmids can be used as vectors for introducing foreign genes into the bacteria that can impart new synthetic capabilities to an otherwise “wild” bacterial strain. Many bacteria exhibit motility by means of one or more hairlike appendages called flagella. Bacteria reproduce by dividing into equal parts, a process termed binary fission.

Under adverse conditions, certain microorganisms produce spores that germinate upon return to a favorable environment. Spores are a particularly stable form or state of bacteria that may survive dryness and temperature extremes. Some microorganisms form spores at a stage in their normal life cycle.

Many species may, under appropriate circumstances, become surrounded by gelatinous material that provides a means of attachment and some protection from other organisms. If many cells share the same gelatinous covering, it is called a slime; otherwise each is said to have a capsule.


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