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ZingPath: Bacteria and Viruses

Hidden Heroes: Bacteria

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Bacteria and Viruses

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Hidden Heroes: Bacteria


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You will embark on a mission to engineer a specialized bacterium, resistant to both heat and radiation that will reduce the toxic effects of radioactive waste sites.

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Now You Know

After completing this tutorial, you will be able to complete the following:

  • Define bioremediation as the use of organisms in biotechnology to reduce contaminated soil or groundwater to overcome environmental problems.
  • Define conjugation as the exchange of genetic material through a bridge connecting the cells.
  • Identify the optimum temperature for growth of certain bacteria species when shown samples of bacterial colonies.
  • Explain that microorganisms from the same genus are better able to conjugate than species that are very different.
  • Explain that certain bacteria can help the environment by getting energy from materials in toxic waste, leaving behind fewer harmful byproducts.

Everything You'll Have Covered

Bacteria are a type of prokaryotic microorganism, which means that they lack a true nucleus and membrane-bound organelles. Many different types of bacteria species exist, living in every environment on the planet. Some are able to withstand extreme conditions such as areas with very high temperatures, areas of radioactivity, and areas of high chemical contents. These are conditions under which virtually no other known organisms would survive.

In most ecosystems, the niche of many bacteria is that of decomposer. As humans, we use this feature of bacteria to our advantage, by using bacteria to help decompose our waste. Some of our waste is easily biodegradable and some is easily able to be recycled. However, some waste-especially chemical and radioactive waste-cannot be easily dealt with and handled by humans. Such toxic waste can be incredibly difficult to get rid of in a cost-effective and safe manner. Often times, some of the treatments for getting rid of the waste can further damage the environment. Because of this, scientists have been trying to create methods to deal with this toxic waste in a better way. Bioremediation is a method in which specialized bacteria can be used to help break down the toxic waste, leaving behind fewer harmful byproducts. Using this process is not only fairly cost effective, but can help rid the environment of toxic waste such as oil from oil spills or radiation from nuclear plants.

Sometimes, bacteria have to be engineered to withstand all of the specific conditions of a particular waste site. A method that can be used to do this is called conjugation. Although bacteria reproduce asexually, they can exchange genetic information through conjugation. In this process, a bridge forms between two bacteria cells through which genetic information is exchanged. In this manner, specialized bacteria can be created.

Tutorial Details

Approximate Time 20 Minutes
Pre-requisite Concepts Students should be familiar with bacteria, cells, and radiation.
Course Biology
Type of Tutorial Concept Development
Key Vocabulary bacteria, bacterium, bioremediation