When it comes to discussing bacteria, many people are not aware that not all bacteria are harmful. In fact, a substantial amount of bacteria that exists are very beneficial, and they actually help us rather than harm us. Bacillus Subtilis is one of these bacterium’s that do more benefiting than harming. Bacillus Subtilis is a gram-positive bacterium. Being a gram-positive bacterium means that it contains a thick peptidoglycan layer in its cell wall which makes it retain the color saffarine when conducting a gram stain, and will appear purple when observed under a microscope. The shape of Bacillus Subtilis is rod shaped, when under a microscope it appears to look like a rounded rectangle. Bacillus Subtilis is an ubiquitous bacterium, which simply means that it is found nearly everywhere.
You can find Bacillus Subtilis in soil, decomposing plant matter, water, and air. An interesting feature about Bacillus Subtilis is that it has the ability to produce endospores. Endospores are thick walls that surround the cell to protect its DNA and other internal structures. With that being said, this makes Bacillus Subtilis a very tough bacterium to destroy. Bacillus Subtilis can withstand harsh temperatures, environmental factors, chemicals, extreme pH, and few types of radiation. With the ability to withstand such harsh conditions it is likely to find Bacillus Subtilis to live in many extreme habitats such as desert sands, hot springs, and Arctic soils. Another great feature about Bacillus Subtilis is that it has the ability to create a thin usually resistant layer of microorganisms that form on and coat various surfaces that are called Biofilms.
Bacillus Subtilis is not usually known to cause any diseases. Only in immunocompromised patients will Bacillus Subtilis become a threat to become pathogenic. As for healthy individuals, Bacillus Subtilis can be used as a ‘chemical that denotes substances which stimulates the growth of microorganisms, especially those in the intestinal flora’ (oxford 1), also known as, probiotics. Bacillus Subtilis does have the ability to contaminate food, very rarely is food poisoning a result from it. When examining food for possible Bacillus Subtilis contamination, you will notice a sticky substance (frequently seen on spoiled bread dough), which is a long chain of polysaccharides produced by bacteria.
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A major benefit of Bacillus Subtilis is the ability it has to make antibiotics. Bacillus Subtilis is capable of making 24 antibiotics with a large variety of structures. The anti-microbial active compounds that are produced include: peptides that are ribosomally synthesized and post-transitionally modified, and non- ribosomally generated peptides. An example of a peptide that is ribosomally synthesized and post-transitionally modified (also known as Lambiotic) is Subtilin.
Subtilin is a peptide antibiotic of 32 amino acids that is known to protect against gram-positive bacteria and various pathogenic fungi. An example of a peptide antibiotic that is non-ribosomally generated would be Bacitracin. Bacitracin is a toxic and hard to use antibiotic that is not suggested to be taken orally. On the other hand, when taken topically it can be very effective. This antibiotic focuses on gram-positive cell walls.
Another great use of Bacillus Subtilis that has recently been discovered is its amazing use to support plant growth. This Bacterium plays a major role by supplying the terrestrial carbon cycle and the nitrogen cycle, which helps refurnish the soil. With the ability of Bacillus Subtilis to create biofilms, this becomes very beneficial because the biofilms fight against potential pathogens that could possibly harm the plant. Bacillus Subtilis also can be used as fungicides, which are used to kill or stop fungi or fungal spores. With out the use of fungicides there could be serious damage to agriculture, resulting in critical losses of crops, quality and profit.
Over the years researchers have found many other important uses of Bacillus Subtilis. One use that researchers have discovered is that Bacillus Subtilis has the ability to decompose some explosives into harmless compounds of nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and water. Also, In 1999, New York City conducted an experiment to test the vulnerability of their subway system to biowarfare. Researchers released the harmless, Bacillus Subtilis into their subways to see how fast it grew and where it traveled.
The results of this experiment was that New York’s underground subway system is very vulnerable due to the winds and the vacuums created by the passing subway trains, and if a bacteria (especially an endospore forming bacteria such as anthrax) was released in just one subway, all trains will be in danger. Without this experiment NYC would not have been aware of how high of a threat their underground systems are, and what they can do to help quarantine biowarfare if ever exposed in their subway systems.
In conclusion, Bacillus Subtilis is quite an extravagant bacterium. With its ability to be used as an antibiotic, fungicide, or used to decompose explosive into harmless matter, chances are that at some point in time you would have used a substance that contains this bacteria. Who would have thought that a bacterium… something that is looked down upon by many as harmful, could be very beneficial to our health, safety and development!
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