Monday, 7 December 2009

Wired Science: Simple Organisms Do Not Exist

E. coli. Image courtesy of Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIAID, NIH. A fresh study indicates that bacteria are more complex than previous thought.

Joel Kontinen

Unicellular organisms can be astonishingly complex, a new study conducted at the University of Arizona reveals. Although Mycoplasma pneumoniae only has a fifth of the genes of Escherichia coli, it is by no means simple.

Howard Ochman and Rahul Raghavan, biologists at the University of Arizona, recently published a paper on M. pneumoniae in Science. They documented almost all proteins that M. pneumoniae uses, studied the function of each gene and recorded their gene activity.

M. pneumoniae has only eight gene switches (E. coli has 50), but they are able to control its molecular activities. This suggests amazingly sophisticated co-operation.

In other words, stupid bacteria are surprisingly clever.

Charles Darwin assumed that the cell was exceedingly simple. However, recent biochemical discoveries have shown that the cell is more of a conglomeration of well-designed nano factories than a Darwinian black box.

Rather than being noise, the message that these humble bacteria are trying to communicate clearly speaks of extremely intelligent design.

If only we had ears that could hear.


Keim. Brandon. 2009. There’s No Such Thing as a ‘Simple’ Organism. Wired Science. (30 November).