Just the thought that trillions of bacteria are crawling all over your skin and through your bodies is enough to freak anyone out.
“But as long as humans can’t live without carbon, nitrogen, protection from disease and the ability to fully digest their food, they can’t live without bacteria,”— Anne Maczulak, famous microbiologist.
Bacteria – a word that often brings out a sense of uneasiness in most of us are, in fact, one of the earliest forms of life. It can be quite unnerving to know that there are bacteria all over your skin, hair, and even inside the body. But only a few species of bacteria are dangerous. The majority of bacteria are good, and without them, life on earth wouldn’t be possible. Let’s learn more about how are bacteria essential for you to survive.
Bacteria and our Environment
- Efficient Recyclers: Bacteria play a critical role in the decomposition of organic matter in soil and in the oceans. It also cycles chemical elements such as carbon and nitrogen, which are essential for humans to survive.
- Creator of Amino & Nucleic Acids: Soil bacteria cyanobacteria play a crucial role in turning atmospheric nitrogen into ammonium or nitrates that plants can absorb to create amino acids and nucleic acids, the building blocks of DNA. We just eat the plants and get all the benefits.
- Nutrient Builders: Bacteria constantly helps maintain the cycle of our nature. The major constituent of soil is bacteria. They play a very crucial role in building nutrients, i.e. recycling carbon, nitrogen, sulphur and phosphorus between human beings and the environment. Without these cycles, there would be no exchange of elements, which are the backbone of proteins, sugars, and fats.
- Water Recyclers: Recently, scientists have found evidence that bacteria represent many particles that cause clouds to precipitate into falling snow and rain.
- Harvesting Agents: Nitrogen-fixing bacteria like Azotobacter, Clostridium, etc. fix free nitrogen of the soil and make it available to the plants, which is a necessity for the survival of the plants. And this is how bacteria help us in harvesting vegetation.
- Pollution fighters: Heavy metals from industry and toxic synthetic organic chemicals, pose serious environmental and health risks. Bioremediation uses certain bacteria that digest toxic substances and convert them into less harmful substances. Also, the traditional chemical analyses for determining and locating toxic waste are expensive and inaccurate. Therefore, scientists have designed biosensors, which are genetically modified bacteria that can locate pollutants.
These were few roles bacteria play in the environment, let’s read about how this goes between humans and bacteria.
Humans and Bacteria
- Aids our Digestive System: Bacteria offer multiple benefits inside the human body. In the digestive system, they help break down food like plant and fibres that we can’t digest on our own. Lactobacillus helps break down the sugar.
- Maximum Nutrition from food: According to Anne Maczulak, bacteria in the digestive system supply us with the needed vitamins like biotin and Vitamin K, and are our primary source for some of these nutrients. In a nutshell, we get more nutrition from food because of bacteria.
- Keeps the harmful bacteria out: Many bacteria that live inside the mouth, throat, nose and intestines do not let other harmful microorganisms live inside or on the human body. The bacteria in the intestines work with the immune system to protect the body against various diseases. The bacteria residing inside the stomach helps maintain the ph and acidity level in the stomach.
- Safeguards our skin: The forest of bacteria on our skin (almost 200 different species on a normal person) controls the environment of the skin and its resources, keeping other harmful bacteria from establishing a foothold.
- Fortifies our Immune System: Exposure to bacteria proved to be an important part of the development of our immune system. Bacteria are known to prime the immune system to fight the harmful viruses later in life. Children who are sheltered from bacteria are prone to develop asthma and allergies.
Apart from the importance of bacteria for the healthy relationship between humans and bacteria, they also have multiple benefits in the field of medicines and agriculture. Bacteria are used extensively in the production of antibiotics and vaccines, genetic engineering, Bio-pesticides, organic manure, etc. Bacteria also prove to be very useful in industries such as cheese-making, vinegar-making, tea curing, leather tanning, and much more.
The number of bacterial cells in the body is commonly estimated at 10 times the number of human cells. Yes, bacteria, such as those from the genera Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus, account for a large majority of the 100 trillion creepy crawlies that call your body home.
Diets high in animal protein, processed foods, and especially flours and simple sugars tend to raise the numbers of potentially harmful bacteria. Just keep in mind that good bacteria spend their days destroying their harmful cousins, picking through undigested leftovers and micromanaging calories.
Every coin has two sides, bacteria are essential for you to survive but there are some harmful forms of bacteria too. But one thing is certain, without bacteria we wouldn’t survive. So let’s agree – Humans and Bacteria need each other.
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