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Summary :-

Bacteria are microbes with a cell structure simpler than that of many other organisms. Their control centre, containing the genetic information, is contained in a single loop of DNA. Some bacteria have an extra circle of genetic material called a plasmid rather than a nucleus. The plasmid often contains genes that give the bacterium some advantage over other bacteria. For example it may contain a gene that makes the bacterium resistant to a certain antibiotic.

Bacteria are classified into five groups according to their basic shapes: spherical (cocci), rod (bacilli), spiral (spirilla), comma (vibrios) or corkscrew (spirochaetes). They can exist as single cells, in pairs, chains or clusters.

Bacteria are found in every habitat on Earth: soil, rock, oceans and even arctic snow. Some live in or on other organisms including plants and animals including humans. There are approximately 10 times as many bacterial cells as human cells in the human body. A lot of these bacterial cells are found lining the digestive system. Some bacteria live in the soil or on dead plant matter where they play an important role in the cycling of nutrients. Some types cause food spoilage and crop damage but others are incredibly useful in the production of fermented foods such as yoghurt and soy sauce. Relatively few bacteria are parasites or pathogens that cause disease in animals and plants.

Viruses are the smallest of all the microbes. They are said to be so small that 500 million rhinoviruses (which cause the common cold) could fit on to the head of a pin. They are unique because they are only alive and able to multiply inside the cells of other living things. The cell they multiply in is called the host cell.

A virus is made up of a core of genetic material, either DNA or RNA, surrounded by a protective coat called a capsid which is made up of protein. Sometimes the capsid is surrounded by an additional spikey coat called the envelope. Viruses are capable of latching onto host cells and getting inside them.

H3N2 influenza virus particles, coloured transmission electron micrograph (TEM). Each virus consists of a nucleocapsid (protein coat) that surrounds a core of RNA (ribonucleic acid) genetic material. Surrounding the nucleocapsid is a lipid envelope that contains the glycoprotein spikes haemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N). These viruses were part of the Hong Kong Flu pandemic of 1968-1969 that killed approximately one million people worldwide. H3N2 viruses are able to infect birds and mammals as well as humans. They often cause more severe infections in the young and elderly than other flu strains and can lead to increases in hospitalisations and deaths.

Fungi can be single celled or very complex multicellular organisms. They are found in just about any habitat but most live on the land, mainly in soil or on plant material rather than in sea or fresh water. A group called the decomposers grow in the soil or on dead plant matter where they play an important role in the cycling of carbon and other elements. Some are parasites of plants causing diseases such as mildews, rusts, scabs or canker. In crops fungal diseases can lead to significant monetary loss for the farmer. A very small number of fungi cause diseases in animals. In humans these include skin diseases such as athletes’ foot, ringworm and thrush