INTERESTING THINGS I LEARNED ABOUT BACTERIA WHILE DOING RESEARCH FOR THIS BOOK
I'm in the midst of a fix-up/rewrite for this novel and needed to do a deeper dive on the science elements, so it was back to the books and Internet this week
- •Fun fact: the percentage of bacteria that cause disease is less than the percentage of people that commit first-degree murderMost bacteria is our friend! It makes the air breathable and puts holes in Swiss cheese and bubbles in champagne. Thanks, bro.
- •Bacteria talks to each other using this thing called quorum sensingBasically, bacteria turns itself on when they sense there's enough of their brethren around in order to get the job done. For harmful bacteria, like the kind that makes you sick, that's waiting until there are enough of them in you so that they can overpower you. Because you are very big and a single bacterium is very, very small. So they just sit there, quiet and inert, until enough bacteria arrive at the party and then bam! It's crazy because they don't have, like, brains.
- •But there are other, cooler ways bacteria uses quorum sensingLike in bioluminescence.
- •Bioluminescent bacteria is that which emits lightThink fireflies, or mushrooms that glow in the dark, or those pictures of beaches you might have seen where a neon wave is washing up on shore.
- •Okay so there's this squid in HawaiiAnd she has a sac full of this bioluminescent bacteria. And she's nocturnal and comes out of the sand at night to hunt in shallow water. The moon/starlight shines overhead and in order to disguise herself, the bacteria knows it's time to turn on (tl;dr circadian rhythms) and it shines its light at the ground. SO SHE EFFECTIVELY HAS NO SHADOW. That's some Star Trek cloaking device shit.
- •And there's this thing called a flashlight fishExcept it doesn't use its light up bacteria to see, it uses it as a diversion. It has two light organs on the side of its head and it swims in a zigzag pattern. So just before a turn, it turns OFF the lights and a predator strikes where the fish WOULD HAVE BEEN. No one really understands how the fish communicates with the bacteria on the light organs to use them like freaking car blinkers.
- •You can "print" a picture with bacteriaSo there's a field of light-sensitive bacteria on agar (that jelly stuff in those plastic pucks you may remember from high school science). And if you shine light in a specific pattern on the field, you can grow an image onto the field as a high def chemical image. Right now, people are "printing" selfies and 😛 basically. But the implication is you can "print" biological materials. With light. And a field of bacteria.
- •BiofuelsThere's a way to use microalgae to produce gasoline and jet fuel. (tl;dr) If you take an area the size of New Mexico and farm a specific type of bacteria, you can produce the equivalent of 1.2 billion liters of petroleum, i.e., what the U.S. uses per year. There's still a production issue, tl;dr, cyanobacteria.
- •Algae can also produce butter and protein-rich flourI don't really know how that works. Dammit, Jim, I'm a writer, not a microbiologist.