Bacteria's and their usefullness


Bacteria are single-celled microorganisms that lack a nuclear membrane, are metabolically active and divide by binary fission. Medically they are a major cause of disease. Superficially, bacteria appear to be relatively simple forms of life; in fact, they are sophisticated and highly adaptable. Many bacteria multiply at rapid rates, and different species can utilize an enormous variety of hydrocarbon substrates, including phenol, rubber, and petroleum. These organisms exist widely in both parasitic and free-living forms. Because they are ubiquitous and have a remarkable capacity to adapt to changing environments by selection of spontaneous mutants, the importance of bacteria in every field of medicine cannot be overstated.

The discipline of bacteriology evolved from the need of physicians to test and apply the germ theory of disease and from economic concerns relating to the spoilage of foods and wine. The initial advances in pathogenic bacteriology were derived from the identification and characterization of bacteria associated with specific diseases. During this period, great emphasis was placed on applying Koch's postulates to test proposed cause-and-effect relationships between bacteria and specific diseases. Today, most bacterial diseases of humans and their etiologic agents have been identified, although important variants continue to evolve and sometimes emerge, e.g., Legionnaire's Disease, tuberculosis and toxic shock syndrome.

Major advances in bacteriology over the last century resulted in the development of many effective vaccines (e.g., pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine, diphtheria toxoid, and tetanus toxoid) as well as of other vaccines (e.g., cholera, typhoid, and plague vaccines) that are less effective or have side effects. Another major advance was the discovery of antibiotics. These antimicrobial substances have not eradicated bacterial diseases, but they are powerful therapeutic tools. Their efficacy is reduced by the emergence of antibiotic resistant bacteria (now an important medical management problem) In reality, improvements in sanitation and water purification have a greater effect on the incidence of bacterial infections in a community than does the availability of antibiotics or bacterial vaccines. Nevertheless, many and serious bacterial diseases remain.

Most diseases now known to have a bacteriologic etiology have been recognized for hundreds of years. Some were described as contagious in the writings of the ancient Chinese, centuries prior to the first descriptions of bacteria by Anton van Leeuwenhoek in 1677. There remain a few diseases (such as chronic ulcerative colitis) that are thought by some investigators to be caused by bacteria but for which no pathogen has been identified. Occasionally, a previously unrecognized diseases is associated with a new group of bacteria. An example is Legionnaire's disease, an acute respiratory infection caused by the previously unrecognized genus, Legionella. Also, a newly recognized pathogen, Helicobacter, plays an important role in peptic disease. Another important example, in understanding the etiologies of venereal diseases, was the association of at least 50 percent of the cases of urethritis in male patients with Ureaplasma urealyticum or Chlamydia trachomatis.

Media Contact: 

Liza Parker
Journal Manager 
Microbiology: Current Research