Friday, 24 November 2017

All About ... Bacteria

In my blog about the immune system a while ago I mentioned that bacteria can cause infection, however, they are not all bad and some are vital to gut health!

Bacteria are small cellular organisms that have been present on earth for over 3500 million years.  There are a huge number of different types which live in every place on earth, from mountaintops to oceans and everything in between.  They can survive in the most extreme conditions where little else would survive.

·         Aerobic bacteria - can only grow where there is oxygen.
·         Anaerobic bacteria - can only grow where there is no oxygen eg: in the gut.  However, this type also includes those that cause tetanus and botulism.
·         Facultative anaerobic bacteria - can live with or without oxygen but prefer oxygen.  They are usually found in soil and water eg: streptococcus zooepidemicus which causes upper respiratory tract disease.
·         Mesophilic bacteria - are responsible for many infections and thrive in moderate temperatures eg: 37°C

Bacteria are extremely small and very few can be seen by the human eye, typically they are between 0.5 and 5 micrometres in length.  They also come in different shapes; spherical bacteria are called cocci, rod shaped are called bacilli.  There are also spiral shaped bacteria called spirilla and curved ones called vibrio!

In some ways bacterial cells are the same as other cells, but they do not usually have a nucleus, mitochondria or chloroplasts.  However, they do have:

·         a cell wall
·         a plasma membrane, which allows the transfer of some substances in and out
·         cytoplasm
·         DNA
·          ribosomes
·          flagella
·         pili, which are on the outside of the cell and allow it to stick to surfaces

Some bacteria get their energy from 'food' -  they are called heterotrophs and others make their own - called autotrophs - using water, sunlight and carbon dioxide or other chemicals.  

Mutualists are bacteria which form close relationships with other organisms.  In humans and horses these types of bacteria are found in the gut (intestines) where they have a number of roles including fermenting some complex carbohydrates.  Pathogens are the bacteria which cause disease and infection eg: tetanus, strangles.

Sadly, the use of antibiotics does not only kill infection, it also kills the bacteria in the gut and this in turn can affect a horse's ability to digest food.  This does not mean you should not use antibiotics when recommended by the vet BUT think about their use and the other things you should do to help your horse if they are ill.

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Until next time!

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