Extra Credit / The Mistake by Marie De Austria

It is difficult to imagine how much microorganisms like microbes affect our daily lives because of their size. But as it is, microbes are everywhere even when we do not see them. In fact, microbes represent about sixty percent of the biomass here on earth. That is more than every living thing we can see combined. They can be as helpful to humans as the bacillus coagulans which help in proper digestive function or as deadly as bacillus anthrasis which can cause pneumonia. Beatriz de Costa’s gallery raises awareness in the prevalence of bacteria. In her porch, garage, and bushes alone, she found various strains of bacteria that, because of their unique genome, could potentially benefit or harm humans.


bacillus cereus

One such bacteria found in de Costa’s porch is called a bacillus cereus. This bacteria is harmless when it resides in the soil and it can live in a wide range of environments. It starts to become dangerous when animals ingest it. Because of its protective outer shell, it can survive the digestive tracts and enzymes of an animal and it continues to grow even when the animal dies. Then it is passed to another organism if the infected organism is eaten by another animal. This is how bacillus cereus can be transferred into a human being and causes harm to people. The “Fried Rice Symptom” caused by this microbe occurs because of improper cooking of rice. The victim becomes nauseous, suffers gastrointestinal pain, diarrhea, and vomiting.

Health and biomedical agencies are concerned about its potential to cause systematic infections especially because bacteria are known to evolve new strains and protective shields fast. This strain, for example, used to be easily treated by penicillin and other antibiotics but now, they have evolved protective endospores which makes them more adapted to modern environments. Bacteria, in general, evolve quickly because they lack the mechanism that higher forms of organisms have. When human DNA copies itself during the mitosis of their cells, there is an enzyme or molecule that “checks” each step of duplication to make sure that the genome is copied properly. In bacteria, however, this mechanism is not present and mistakes often occur. This mistake can potentially produce a mutation that alters the phenotype of a bacterium. Mutations also occur due to an exchange in plasmid that is unique to bacteria as well as a damage to DNA caused by electromagnetic rays.  When these damages are copied, then a mutation occurs.

Mutation due to UV rays

Mutation due to UV rays

Since bacterium reproduces exponentially more than humans do, the chances of a bacterium to evolve a new strain is much greater than in humans. And so humans are often challenged by new strains of bacteria that are resistant to medical antibiotics. This is why agencies are studying bacteria to try to sequence their genome. In this way, they can gain better understanding of how the bacteria evolve protective barriers as well as how they affect other organisms. Understanding how something works is the best way to keep them under control.

It is interesting to see that what causes bacterial immunity is a “mistake” in the duplication of its genome – a mistake, which is something that can randomly and suddenly happen. This reminds me of Joshua Davis’ artwork wherein he waits for the “beautiful accident” that his computer generates through a set of rules and programming that he creates. Sometimes, it is the exception, the mistake, the different one that adds uniqueness, novelty, and progress to an otherwise repetitive way of life.





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