Bacterial Biology

Topics: Bacteria, DNA, Microbiology Pages: 11 (4074 words) Published: March 20, 2014
Bacterial Biology

An understanding of the fundamentals of bacterial biology is critical to bacteriologists and other forensic investigators attempting to identify potential biogenic pathogens that may be exploited as agents in biological warfare or by bioterrorists. Fundamentals of Bacterial Biology

Bacteria are one-celled prokaryotic organisms that lack a true nucleus (i.e., a nucleus defined by a membrane). Bacteria maintain their genetic material, deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), in a single, circular chain. Bacteria also contain DNA in small circular molecules termed plasmids. The Dutch merchant and amateur scientist Anton van Leeuwenhoek was the first to observe bacteria and other microorganisms. Using single-lens microscopes of his own design, he described bacteria and other microorganisms as "animacules." In addition to not being contained in a membrane bound nucleus, the DNA of prokaryotes is not associated with the special chromosome proteins called histones, which are found in higher organisms. In addition, prokaryotic cells lack other membrane-bounded organelles, such as mitochondria. Although all bacteria share certain structural, genetic, and metabolic characteristics, important biochemical differences exist among the many species of bacteria. The cytoplasm of all bacteria is enclosed within a cell membrane surrounded by a rigid cell wall whose polymers, with few exceptions, include peptidoglycans—large, structural molecules made of protein carbohydrate. Bacteria also secrete a viscous, gelatinous polymer (called the glycocalyx) on their cell surfaces. This polymer, composed either of polysaccharide, polypeptide, or both, is called a capsule when it occurs as an organized layer firmly attached to the cell wall. Capsules increase the disease-causing ability (virulence) of bacteria by inhibiting immune system cells called phagocytes from engulfing them. The shape of bacterial cells are classified as spherical (coccus), rodlike (bacillus), spiral (spirochete), helical (spirilla) and comma-shaped (vibrio). Many bacilli and vibrio bacteria have whiplike appendages (called flagella) protruding from the cell surface. Flagella are composed of tight, helical rotors made of chains of globular protein called flagellin, and act as tiny propellers, making the bacteria very mobile. On the surface of some bacteria are short, hairlike, proteinaceous projections that may arise at the ends of the cell or over the entire surface. These projections, called fimbriae, facilitate bacteria adherence to surfaces. Other proteinaceous projections, called pili, occur singly or in pairs, and join pairs of bacteria together, facilitating transfer of DNA between them. During periods of harsh environmental conditions some bacteria can produce within themselves a dehydrated, thick-walled endospore. These endospores can survive extreme temperatures, dryness, and exposure to many toxic chemicals and to radiation. Endospores can remain dormant for long periods (hundreds of years in some cases) before being reactivated by the return of favorable conditions. Identifying and Classifying Bacteria

The identification schemes of Bergey's Manual are based on morphology (e.g., coccus, bacillus), staining (gram-positive or negative), cell wall composition (e.g., presence or absence of peptidoglycan), oxygen requirements (e.g., aerobic, facultatively anaerobic) and biochemical tests (e.g., in which sugars are aerobically metabolized or fermented). Another important identification technique is based on the principles of antigenicity—the ability to stimulate the formation of antibodies by the immune system. Commercially available solutions of antibodies against specific bacteria (antisera) are used to identify unknown organisms in a procedure called a slide agglutination test. A sample of unknown bacteria in a drop of saline is mixed with antisera that has been raised against a known species of bacteria. If the antisera causes the...
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