Smart Bacteria

Proverbs 10:14
“Wise [men] lay up knowledge: but the mouth of the foolish [is] near destruction.”

How smart do bacteria need to be? You might be surprised. Scientists were.

Some bacteria swim toward things that they like and away from things they don’t like. That may seem simple enough to us, but it’s not that simple for a bacterium. E. coli swim through liquids using whip-like hairs called flagella. However, because they are so tiny, their movement through water is like a human trying to swim through Smart Bacteriamolasses. They only move when they rotate their flagella. When rotated counterclockwise, their six or eight flagella wind together, forming a propeller that rotates at 140 revolutions per second! This moves the bacterium along in a straight line. However, periodically the bacterium will reverse its propeller, causing the flagella to unwrap and spinning the bacterium into a tumble. This led scientists to wonder how a bacterium ever got where it wanted to go.

Scientists also realized that for a bacterium to get to something that attracts it, it must have sensors and a memory. A bacterium must be able to say to itself, “It smells better here than where I was a moment ago. I’ll keep moving in this direction.” In other words, scientists are trying to figure out what makes bacteria so smart and gives them so many unexpected abilities.

The intelligence and abilities of bacteria are no mystery to those who know that we have an intelligent Creator. We would expect everything He made to reflect His great abilities.

Father in heaven, for Jesus’ sake forgive me for not reflecting the intelligence You have given me. Help me to make better use of my intellect for You and for others. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Dietrick E. Thomsen. 1984. “Swimming for the Good Life.” Science News, Vol. 125, May 12, p. 298. Illustration: Flagellum of gram negative bacteria. (PD)