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Part a shows two men in yellow raingear hosing off oil-drenched rocks on a sea-shore. Part b shows an oil-drenched bird sitting in oily water.
(a) Cleaning up oil after the Valdez spill in Alaska, the workers hosed oil from beaches and then used a floating boom to corral the oil, which was finally skimmed from the water surface. Some species of bacteria are able to solubilize and degrade the oil. (b) One of the most catastrophic consequences of oil spills is the damage to fauna. (credit a: modification of work by NOAA; credit b: modification of work by GOLUBENKOV, NGO: Saving Taman)

Prokaryotes in and on the body

Humans are no exception when it comes to forming symbiotic relationships with prokaryotes. We are accustomed to thinking of ourselves as single organisms, but in reality, we are walking ecosystems. There are 10 to 100 times as many bacterial and archaeal cells inhabiting our bodies as we have cells in our bodies. Some of these are in mutually beneficial relationships with us, in which both the human host and the bacterium benefit, while some of the relationships are classified as commensalism    , a type of relationship in which the bacterium benefits and the human host is neither benefited nor harmed.

Human gut flora lives in the large intestine and consists of hundreds of species of bacteria and archaea, with different individuals containing different species mixes. The term “flora,” which is usually associated with plants, is traditionally used in this context because bacteria were once classified as plants. The primary functions of these prokaryotes for humans appear to be metabolism of food molecules that we cannot break down, assistance with the absorption of ions by the colon, synthesis of vitamin K, training of the infant immune system, maintenance of the adult immune system, maintenance of the epithelium of the large intestine, and formation of a protective barrier against pathogens.

The surface of the skin is also coated with prokaryotes. The different surfaces of the skin, such as the underarms, the head, and the hands, provide different habitats for different communities of prokaryotes. Unlike with gut flora, the possible beneficial roles of skin flora have not been well studied. However, the few studies conducted so far have identified bacteria that produce antimicrobial compounds as probably responsible for preventing infections by pathogenic bacteria.

Researchers are actively studying the relationships between various diseases and alterations to the composition of human microbial flora. Some of this work is being carried out by the Human Microbiome Project, funded in the United States by the National Institutes of Health.

Section summary

Prokaryotes existed for billions of years before plants and animals appeared. Microbial mats are thought to represent the earliest forms of life on Earth, and there is fossil evidence, called stromatolites, of their presence about 3.5 billion years ago. During the first 2 billion years, the atmosphere was anoxic and only anaerobic organisms were able to live. Cyanobacteria began the oxygenation of the atmosphere. The increase in oxygen concentration allowed the evolution of other life forms.

Prokaryotes (domains Archaea and Bacteria) are single-celled organisms lacking a nucleus. They have a single piece of circular DNA in the nucleoid area of the cell. Most prokaryotes have cell wall outside the plasma membrane. Bacteria and Archaea differ in the compositions of their cell membranes and the characteristics of their cell walls.

Bacterial cell walls contain peptidoglycan. Archaean cell walls do not have peptidoglycan. Bacteria can be divided into two major groups: Gram-positive and Gram-negative. Gram-positive organisms have a thick cell wall. Gram-negative organisms have a thin cell wall and an outer membrane. Prokaryotes use diverse sources of energy to assemble macromolecules from smaller molecules. Phototrophs obtain their energy from sunlight, whereas chemotrophs obtain it from chemical compounds.

Infectious diseases caused by bacteria remain among the leading causes of death worldwide. The excessive use of antibiotics to control bacterial infections has resulted in resistant forms of bacteria being selected. Foodborne diseases result from the consumption of contaminated food, pathogenic bacteria, viruses, or parasites that contaminate food. Prokaryotes are used in human food products. Microbial bioremediation is the use of microbial metabolism to remove pollutants. The human body contains a huge community of prokaryotes, many of which provide beneficial services such as the development and maintenance of the immune system, nutrition, and protection from pathogens.

Art connections

[link] Which of the following statements is true?

  1. Gram-positive bacteria have a single cell wall formed from peptidoglycan.
  2. Gram-positive bacteria have an outer membrane.
  3. The cell wall of Gram-negative bacteria is thick, and the cell wall of Gram-positive bacteria is thin.
  4. Gram-negative bacteria have a cell wall made of peptidoglycan, while Gram-positive bacteria have a cell wall made of phospholipids.

[link] A

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Questions & Answers

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where does the cell get energy for active transport processes?
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what is synapsis
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how many turns are required to make a molecule of sucrose in Calvin cycle
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why Calvin cycle occurs in stroma
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why do humans enhale oxygen and exhale carbondioxide?
Maryam Reply
why do humans enhale oxygen and exhale carbondioxide? For the purpose of breaking down the food
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what is allele
uzoka Reply
process of protein synthesis
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what is cell
Zulf Reply
what is cytoplasm
uzoka Reply
cytoplasm is fluid of cell.
Deepak
how many major types of Cloning
Saeed Reply
two
amir
two
Zulf
comparative anatomy of gymnosperms?
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anatomy of gymnosperms
Meenakshi
how genes are regulated
Ainjue Reply
what is storage of glycogen
Student Reply
glycogen is a protein content
Najeem
how many times breathing a day normally does a person have
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100
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on average 18000 times a day when resting.
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the -10 and -35 regions of prokaryotic promoters are called consensus sequences because
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Source:  OpenStax, Concepts of biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11487/1.9
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