Arxiu d'etiquetes: Archaea

Basic microbiology (II):thousands of bacterial forms

Imagine a bacterium. What image has come to your mind? You have possibly thought of elongated like a Bacillus, type E. coli bacteria or into a small ball. For years, we have associated the bacterial morphology to a few basic shapes, but there are a multitude of forms in the environment. Discover them in the second chapter of Basic Microbiology!


Microorganisms represent a very varied group of organisms invisible to the naked eye. In the previous chapter previous chapter of this article collection we talk about the microbe’s size and in this second chapter of basic microbiology we are going to talk about the different morphologies or forms that exist of the group bacteria and the archaea group (extremophile bacteria).

Usually, when we started the trip in the bacterial world, found that bacteria have a series of basic shapes: coccus (spherical or berry), bacillus (shaped) and spirillum (coiled), as well as its aggregations. These are formed by the union of the cells after division. For example, there are species that are pairs of cocci (known as diplococci), others form long chains of cocci (such as Streptococcus sp.), others are arranged in three-dimensional cubic groupings (like Sarcina sp.) and others formed structures like clusters of grapes (Staphylococcus sp.).

Cocci and its aggregations (Image: Aula virtual).

In the case of rod-shaped bacteria, we can find also different groups such as the diplobacillus or the streptobacillus (such as for example Bacillus cereus). Apart we can find many variations of bacillus: there are shorter and more rounded (numerous coccobacillus, as it would be the case of Yersinia pestis), there are Pleomorphic (who have one or more forms depending on the phase of the cell cycle), finished in tip (as for example Epulopiscium fishelsoni), curved or crooked.

Rod shaped bacteria and its aggregation (image: Aula Virtual)


Finally, the spiral shapes appear as it would be the case of the vibrios (in the form of comma, as Vibrio cholerae), the spirils (as Rhodospirillium rubrum) or spirochaetes (Spirochaeta stenostrepta).

Spiral bacteria (Image: Aula Virtual).


But why morphology is generalized to these forms?

Should be remember that it microbiology always had been a medical discipline and these forms are the more recurrent in the pathogenic bacteria. Now, with the rise of Microbiology, it has been observed that in the environment there is a huge variety of different morphologies, some much more complex that is known so far. The following graphic is result of an elaborate study of David T. Kysela and shows the true morphological variety that exists in the bacterial world.

Differents bacterial morphologies around the Philogenetic tree (Image: David T. Kysela)


Some individual bacteria present peculiar structures, as for example stretching narrow known as prostheca. This would be the case of Caulobacter sp. and Hyphomicrobium sp. These stretching allow to anchor the bacterium to a solid surface. There are bacteria that can also present stems, spines, or tips.

Hyphomicrobium sp. with their prostheca (Image: Holm Niels)

Other bacteria have unusual shapes. For example, Halophyte bacteria (that support high levels of salt concentration) like Stella sp. and Haloquadratum sp. Form a very odd aggregation. The first has a star shape and second rectangular shape.

Diagram of the characteristic shape of Stella vacuolata (a) and Haloquadratum walsbyi (b). (Image: Aula virtual).

Haloarcula japonica is an individual halophyte bacteria as the previous ones, presenting a very striking morphology. As we can see in the first section of the image, in certain stages of the cell cycle has triangular shape. On the other hand, Pyrodictium abyssi (b) presents one of the most striking morphologies, since it has the form of a  “y”letter.

a) Haloarcula japonica (Image: Nite) b) Pyrodictium abyssi (Image: Benjamin Cummings)

Also, there are very characteristics bacterial associations, as for example long chains of organisms that give an aspect of filamentous bacteria. This is the case of the bacterial phylum known as Chloroflexi, where green sulfur bacteria like Chloroflexus sp. are classified (b). Another very striking grouping are the palisades. These are characterized by bacterial rods with vertical connections. A well-known example is the case of Simonsiella muelleri (b).

a) Microphotography of Chloroflexus sp. (Image: JGI Genome Portal). b) Scanner microphotography of Simonsiella sp. (Image: J. Pangborn)

In some cases, there are bacteria that do not have a definite shape or this may vary throughout the cell cycle. In this case, we speak of technically known as Pleomorphic bacteria. Corynebacterium sp. and Rhizobium sp. are good examples of this type of morphology.


The form or morphology that presents the different bacteria is determined by its genome. This fact, and the great diversity of morphologies in different environments, suggest that this feature has an adaptive value and that have been produced by selective forces.

In general, the morphological features are attributed to environmental events as for example the limitation of nutrients, reproduction, dispersion, evasion of a predator or detection of the guest. In the case of filamentous bacteria, they presented a better buoyancy in liquid media and are more difficult to digest by protists. Helical bacteria move easiest in viscous media, while a spherical bacterium or cocci is ideal for the diffusion of nutrients (because it increases the surface/volume ratio).

So, expect that same morphology may appear by convergence in different lineages (that do not have a common ancestor), i.e. that shape is an adaptation to a given environment. For example, before, bacteria that have prostheca were grouped into a single genre known as Prosthecomicrobium, but thanks to genetic studies, this genus has been divided in three different genres. The surprise came when noted that each one of these genera was more similar to a gender without prostheca that between them, i.e., not were related phylogenetically. Simply these species have developed the same system of adaptation to the environment.

However, there are also remember that there are morphological characteristics that are inherited from a common ancestor and are preserved because it is useful for the life of the microbe.


As well as increase the knowledge in the microbial world and genetic techniques, we will discover more facts about these tiny organisms.


  • Brock, microbe Biology. Madigan. Ed. Pearson.
  • Microbiology Introduction. Tortora. Ed. Panamericana. (Free access in spanish here)
  • David, T. Kysela. Diversity takes shape: understanding the mechanistic and adaptative basis of bacterial morphology. PLOS Biology. (Free access)
  • Kevin D. Young. The Selective Value of Bacterial Shape. Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews. (Free access)
  • Kevin D. Young. Bacterial morphology: why have different shapes? Current Opinion in Microbiology. (Free access)
  • Cover Photo: Escuela y Ciencia.


Evolution for beginners

Biological evolution is still not well understood by general public, and when we speak of it in our language abound expressions that confuse even more how mechanisms that lead to species diversity work. Through questions you may have ever asked yourself, in this article we will have a first look at the basic principles of evolution and debunk misconceptions about it.


Outside the scientific field, the word “theory” is used to refer to events that have not been tested or assumptions. But a scientific theory is the explanation of a phenomenon supported by evidence resulting from the application of the scientific method.

scientific method
The scientific method. Image by Margreet de Heer.

Theories can be modified, improved or revised if new data don’t continue to support the theory, but they are always based on some data, repeatable and verifiable experiments by any researcher to be considered valid.

So few people (sic) doubts about the heliocentric theory (the Earth rotates around the Sun), or the gravitational theory of Newton, but in the popular imagination some people believe that the theory of evolution made by Charles Darwin (and Alfred Russell Wallace) is simply a hypothesis and has no evidence to support it. With new scientific advances, his theory has been improved and detailed, but more than 150 years later, nobody has been able to prove it wrong, just the contrary.


We have many evidences and in this post we will not delve into them. Some of the evidence available to us are:

  • Paleontological record: the study of fossils tell us about the similarities and differences of existing species with others thousands or millions old, and to establish relationships respect each other.
  • Comparative anatomy: comparison of certain structures that are very similar between different organisms, can establish whether they have a common ancestor (homologous structures, for example, five fingers in some vertebrates) if they have developed similar adaptations (analogous structures, for example, the wings of birds and insects), or if they have lost their function (vestigial organs, such as the appendix).
Homologous organs in humans, cats, whales and bats
Homologous organs in humans, cats, whales and bats
  • Embryology: the study of embryos of related groups shows a strong resemblance in the earliest stages of development.
  • Biogeography: The study of the geographical distribution of living beings reveals that species generally inhabit the same regions as their ancestors, although there are other regions with similar climates.
  • Biochemistry and genetics: chemical similarities and differences allow to establish relationships among different species. For example, species closely related to each other have a structure of their DNA more similar than others more distant. All living beings share a portion of DNA that is part of your “instructions”, so there are also found in a fly, a plant or a bacterium, proof that all living things have a common ancestor.


Both expressions, frequently used, mean that living beings have an active role to adapt to the environment or “someone” has designed them to live exactly where they are. It is a typical example of Lamarck and giraffes: as a result of stretching the neck to reach the higher leaves of the treescurrently giraffes have this neck for giving it this use. They have a necessity, they change their bodies to success. It is precisely upside down: it is the habitat that selects the fittest, nature “selects” those that are most effective to survive, and therefore reproduce. It is what is known as natural selection, one of the main mechanisms of evolution. It needs three requirements to act:

  • Phenotypic variability: there must be differences between individuals. Some giraffes necks were slightly longer than others, just as there are taller people than others, with blue or brown eyes.
  • Biological fitness: this difference has to suppose an advantage. For example, giraffes with a slightly longer neck could survive and reproduce, while the others don’t.
  • Heredity: these characters must be transmitted to the next generation, the offspring will be slightly different to that feature, while “short neck” feature transmits less and less.
natural selection
The variability in the population causes individuals with favorable characteristics to reproduce more and pass on their genes to the next generation, increasing the proportion of those genes. Image taken from Understanding evolution

Over the years these changes are accumulated until the genetic differences are so big that some populations may not mate with others: a new species has appeared.

If you thought that this is similar to artificial selection that we do with the different breeds of dogs, cows who give more milk, trees bearing more fruit and larger, congratulations, you think like Darwin as it was inspired by some of these facts. Therefore, living beings are mere spectators of the evolutionary process, depending of changes in their habitat and their genetic material.


Genetic variability allows natural selection act. Changes in the genetic material (usually DNA) are caused by:

  • Mutations: changes in the genome that may be adverse or lethal for survival, indifferent or beneficial to survival and reproduction. If they have benefits, they will pass to the next generations.
  • Gene flow: is the motion of genes between populations (migration of individuals allows this exchange when mate with others in a different population).
  • Sexual reproduction: allows recombination of genetic material of different individuals, giving rise to new combinations of DNA.

Populations that have more genetic variability are more likely to survive if happen any changes in their habitat. Populations with less variability (eg, being geographically isolated) are more sensitive to any changes in their habitat, which may cause their extinction.

Evolution can be observed in beings with a very high reproduction rate, for example bacteria, since mutations accumulate more quickly. Have you ever heard that bacteria become resistant to our antibiotics or some insects to pesticides? They evolve so quickly that within a few years were selected the fittest to survive our antibiotics.


Theory of Evolution has various consequences, such as the existence of a common ancestor and that therefore, that we are animals. Even today, and even among the young ones, there is the idea that we are something different between living beings and we are in a special podium in the collective imagination. This anthropocentric thinking caused Darwin mockery and confrontations over 150 years ago.

caricatura, darwin, mono, orangutan
Caricature of Darwin as an orangutan. Public domain image first published in 1871

We use our language to be “more evolved” as a synonym for more complex, and we consider ourselves one species that has reached a high level of understanding of their environment, so many people believe that evolution has come to an end with us.

The question has a mistake of formulation: actually evolving pursues no end, it just happens, and the fact that millions of years allows the emergence of complex structures, it does not mean that simpler lifeforms are not perfectly matched in the habitat where they are. Bacteria, algae, sharks, crocodiles, etc., have remained very similar over millions of years. Evolution is a process that started acting when life first appeared and continues to act in all organisms, including us, although we have changed the way in which natural selection works  (medical and technological breakthroughs, etc.).


The truth is that we don’t come from monkeys, we are monkeys, or to be more rigorous, apes. We have not evolved from any existing primate. As we saw in a previous post, humans and other primates share a common ancestor and natural selection has been acting differently in each of us. That is, evolution has to be viewed as a tree, and not as a straight line, where each branch would be a species .

darwin, árbol, evolución, darwin tree, arbre evolutiu
First scheme of the evolutionary tree of Darwin in his notebook (1837). Public domain image.

Some branches stop growing (species become extinct), while others continue to diversify. The same applies to other species, in case you have asked yourself, “if amphibians come from fish, why are there still fish?”. Currently, genetic analyzes have contributed so much data that they make so difficult to redesign the classical Dariwn’s tree.

árbol filogenético, clasificación seres vivos, árbol de la vida
Classification of live organisms based on the three domains Archaea, Bacteria and Eukarya, data of Carl R. Woese (1990). Included in Eukarya there are the Protista, Fungi, Plantae and Animalia kingdoms. Image by Rita Daniela Fernández.

Evolution is a very broad topic that still generates doubts and controversies. In this article we have tried to bring to uninitiated people some basics, where we can delve into the future. Do you have any questions about evolution? Are you interested into a subject that we have not talked about? You can leave your comments below.



Evolució per a principiants

L’evolució biològica encara no és ben compresa pel públic general, i quan parlem d’ella en el nostre llenguatge abunden expressions que confonen encara més com funcionen els mecanismes que donen lloc a la diversitat d’espècies. A través de preguntes que potser t’has formulat alguna vegada, en aquest article farem un primer apropament als principis bàsics sobre evolució i desmitificarem falses idees sobre ella.


Fora de l’àmbit científic, la paraula “teoria” s’usa per referir-se a fets que no han estat provats o suposicions. Però una teoria científica és l’explicació d’un fenomen recolzada per proves i evidències, resultat de l’aplicació del mètode científic.

diagrama mètode científic
Esquema del mètode científic. Imatge per Mireia Querol adaptada de Lauro Chieza

Com es desprèn del diagrama, les teories poden ser modificades, millorades o revisades si es prenen noves dades que no segueixin recolzant la teoria, però sempre es basen en unes dades i experiments repetibles i comprovables per qualsevol investigador per a ser considerats com a vàlids.

Així doncs, poca gent posa en dubte la Teoria Heliocèntrica (la Terra gira al voltant del Sol), o la Teoria Gravitatòria de Newton, però en l’imaginari popular se segueix creient que la Teoria de l’Evolució formulada per Charles Darwin (i Alfred Russell Wallace) és simplement una hipòtesi i que no evidències que la recolzin. Amb els nous avenços científics seva teoria ha estat millorada i detallada, però més de 150 anys després, ningú ha pogut demostrar que sigui incorrecta, just al contrari.


Les evidències són múltiples i en aquest article no podrem aprofundir en elles. Algunes de les proves de les que disposem són:

  • Registre paleontològic: l’estudi dels fòssils ens informa sobre les semblances i diferències d’espècies de fa milers o milions d’anys respecte les actuals i permet establir parentius entre elles.
  • Anatomia comparada: la comparació de certes estructures que són molt semblants entre organismes diferents, permet establir si tenen un avantpassat comú (estructures homòlogues, per exemple, cinc dits en alguns vertebrats) si han desenvolupat adaptacions similars (estructures anàlogues, per exemple, les ales de les aus i els insectes), o si han perdut la seva funció (òrgans vestigials, per exemple l’apèndix).
anatomia comparada, órganos homólogos
Òrgans homòlegs en humans, gats, balenes i ratpenats
  • Embriologia: l’estudi d’embrions de grups emparentats mostra una gran semblança en les fases més primerenques del desenvolupament.
  • Biogeografia: l’estudi de la distribució geogràfica dels éssers vius revela que les espècies habiten en general les mateixes regions que els seus avantpassats, encara que hi hagi altres regions amb climes similars.
  • Bioquímica i genètica: les similituds i diferències químiques permeten establir relacions de parentiu entre diferents organismes. Per exemple, espècies més emparentades entre si presenten una estructura del seu ADN més semblant que altres més llunyanes. Tots els éssers vius compartim una part d’ADN, és a dir, part de les teves instruccions” també es troben en una mosca, un planta, o un bacteri, prova que tots els éssers vius tenim un avantpassat comú.


Les dues expressions, freqüentment utilitzades, impliquen que els éssers vius tenen un paper actiu per adaptar-se al medi o “algúels ha dissenyat perquè visquin perfectament on són. És el típic exemple de Lamarck i les seves girafes: a força d’estirar el coll per arribar a les fulles dels arbres més altes, com a resultat actualment les girafes tenen aquest coll per donar-li aquest ús. En tenir una necessitat, s’adapten a ella. És justament al revés: és el medi qui selecciona els més aptes, és a dir, la natura “selecciona” els que siguin més eficaços per sobreviure, i per tant reproduir-se. És el que es coneix com a selecció natural, un dels mecanismes principals de l’evolució. S’han de complir tres requisits perquè actuï:

  • Variabilitat fenotípica: hi ha d’haver diferències entre individus. Algunes girafes tenien el coll lleugerament més llarg que altres, igual que hi ha persones més altes, baixes, d’ulls blaus o marrons.
  • Eficàcia biològica: aquesta diferència, ha de suposar un avantatge. Per exemple, les girafes amb un coll lleugerament més llarg podien sobreviure i reproduir-se, mentre les altres no.
  • Herència: aquests caràcters s’han de transmetre a la següent generació, amb la qual cosa els fills seran lleugerament diferents per a aquesta característica, mentre que la característica “coll curtes transmet cada vegada menys.
seleccion natural
La variabilitat en la població provoca que els individus amb característiques favorables es reprodueixin més i transmetin els seus gens a la següent generació, augmentant la proporció d’aquests gens. Imatge presa de Understanding Evolution.

Amb el pas dels anys aquests canvis és van acumulant, fins que les diferències genètiques són tan grans que algunes poblacions ja no es poden reproduir amb d’altres: hauria aparegut una nova espècie.
Si heu pensat que és un procés semblant a la selecció artificial que fem amb les diferents races de gossos, vaques que donin més llet, arbres que donin més fruits i més grans, enhorabona, teniu un pensament semblant al de Darwin ja que és va inspirar en uns quants d’aquests fets. Per tant, a els éssers vius som mers espectadors del procés evolutiu, dependents dels canvis del seu hàbitat i del seu material genètic.


La variabilitat genètica permet que actuï la selecció natural. Els canvis en el material genètic (habitualment ADN) són causats per:

  • Mutacions: canvis en el genoma que poden tenir conseqüències negatives o letals per a la supervivència, indiferents o beneficioses per a la supervivència i reproducció. En l’últim cas aquests gens passaran a les següents generacions.
  • Flux genètic: és el moviment de gens entre poblacions (la migració d’individus permet aquest intercanvi al reproduir-se amb altres d’una població diferent).
  • Reproducció sexual: permet la recombinació de material genètic d’individus diferents, donant lloc a noves combinacions d’ADN.

Les poblacions amb més variabilitat genètica tindrien sobre el paper més possibilitats de supervivència en cas de succeir algun canvi en el seu hàbitat. Poblacions amb menys variabilitat (per exemple, per estar aïllades geogràficament) són més sensibles a qualsevol canvi, cosa que pot provocar la seva extinció.

L’evolució pot observar-se en éssers amb una taxa de reproducció molt elevada, per exemple bacteris, ja que acumulen mutacions més ràpidament. Has sentit alguna vegada que els bacteris es tornen resistents als nostres antibiòtics o alguns insectes als pesticides? Evolucionen tan ràpidament que en pocs anys han estat seleccionats els més adaptats per sobreviure als nostres antibiòtics.


De la Teoria de l’Evolució es desprenen diverses conseqüències, com l’existència d’un ancestre comú i que per tant, som animals. Encara actualment, fins i tot entre els més joves, hi ha la idea que som una cosa diferent entre els éssers vius i ens situem en un pedestal especial en l’imaginari col·lectiu. Aquest pensament antropocèntric ja li va valer a Darwin burles i enfrontaments més de 150 anys enrere.

caricatura, darwin, mono, orangutan
Caricatura de Darwin com un orangutan. Imatge de domini públic publicada per primera vegada el 1871

Utilitzem en el nostre llenguatge ser “més evolucionatcom a sinònim de més complex, i al considerar-nos una espècie que ha arribat a un alt nivell de comprensió del seu entorn, molta gent creu que l’evolució ha arribat a la seva fi amb nosaltres.

La pregunta un error de formulació: en realitat l’evolució no persegueix cap fi, simplement succeeix, i el fet que el pas de milions d’anys permet l’aparició d’estructures complexes, no vol dir que formes de vida més simples no estiguin perfectament adaptades a l’hàbitat on es troben. Bacteris, algues, taurons, cocodrils, etc., s’han mantingut molt semblants al llarg de milions d’anys. L’evolució és un procés que va començar a actuar en el moment que va aparèixer la vida i segueix actuant en tots els organismes, fins i tot en nosaltres, encara que hem modificat la manera en què actua la selecció natural (avenços mèdics, tecnològics, etc.).


La veritat és que no venim del mico, som micos, o per ser més rigorosos, simis. No hem evolucionat a partir de cap primat existent. Com vam veure en un article anterior, humans i la resta de primats compartim un ancestre comú i la selecció natural ha anat actuant de manera diferent en cada un de nosaltres. És a dir, l’evolució l’hem de visualitzar com un arbre, on cada branca seria una espècie, i no com una línia recta.

darwin, árbol, evolución, darwin tree, arbre evolutiu
Primer esquema de l’arbre evolutiu de Darwin en el seu quadern de notes (1837). Imatge de domini públic.

Algunes branques deixen de créixer (les espècies s’extingeixen), mentre que altres segueixen diversificant-se. El mateix s’aplica per a la resta d’espècies, per si t’havies preguntat: “si els amfibis vénen dels peixos, per què hi ha encara els peixos?”. Actualment les anàlisis genètiques han aportat tal quantitat de dades que dificulten les relacions de parentiu de l’arbre clàssic de Darwin.

árbol filogenético, clasificación seres vivos, árbol de la vida
Classificació dels éssers vius basada en els tres dominis, Archaea, Bacteria i Eukarya segons dades de Carl R. Woese (1990). Dins d’Eukarya s’inclouen els regnes Protista, Fungi, Plantae i Animalia. Imatge de Rita Daniela Fernández.

L’evolució és un tema molt extens que segueix generant dubtes i controvèrsies. En aquest article hem intentat apropar a persones no iniciades alguns conceptes bàsics, en els quals podem aprofundir en el futur. Tens alguna pregunta sobre evolució? T’interessa aprofundir en algun tema que no haguem tractat? Pots deixar-nos els teus comentaris a continuació.


mireia querol rovira