October 12, 2010 | David F. Coppedge

Hairy Bacteria Walk and Talk

Little hair-like projections on some bacteria, nearly invisible with light microscopes, are not just for decoration.  They do amazing things – as a pair of recent discoveries brought to light.  They help bacteria walk and talk.

  1. But can they dance?  Bacteria swim, but they also land on surfaces – and when they do, they put out little legs and walk.  This fascinating discovery, discussed on Science Daily, was made at UCLA.  The legs are called “type IV pili” in Pseudomonas, some of which cause diseases in humans.  “What enables this upright walking are appendages called type IV pili, which function as the analog of legs,” the article said.  “What’s more, walking allows P. aeruginosa to move with trajectories optimized for surface exploration, so that they can forage more effectively.”
  2. Social network:  Some bacteria are “wired” with their own electrical intranet.  This was announced also by Science Daily in an article titled, “Bacteria Grow Electrical Hair: Specialized Bacterial Filaments Shown to Conduct Electricity.”  Tiny microfilaments extend out between bacteria to provide a means of communication and mutual support – a kind of cellular FaceBook system.  These create large “living biological circuits” (see Live Science) made of “biological nanowires” that function just like social networks.  “This is the first measurement of electron transport along biological nanowires produced by bacteria,” a researcher said.
        Science Daily explained, “A bacterial nanowire looks like a long hair sticking out of a microbe’s body.  Like human hair, it consists mostly of protein.”  Imagine if people communicated through their nanowires hair.  For bacteria, these networks are like a lifeline.  They exchange electrons, allowing bacteria to “breathe” and also communicate.
        Microbes were already known to communicate with chemical signals.  The nanowire networks apparently provide a faster channel.  Said one of the researchers of the wired net, in stressful situations or when survival is at stake, “You want the telegraph, you don’t want smoke signals.”  One can only guess at what they are saying.  Do they speak in Morse code?  “The current hypothesis is that bacterial nanowires are in fact widespread in the microbial world,” he added.

Humans tend to fear bacteria because of the few nasty kinds that cause disease, but many of these mechanisms at work in the microbial world may actually be beneficial.  That growing feeling extends to viruses, too.  Science Daily in another article spoke of a burgeoning field of “physical virology” that might allow doctors to employ viruses as “natural nanoparticles” for targeting therapeutic agents to cells, and another article in Science Daily discussed using “friendly bacteria” to treat bone cancer.  Could the germs we fear have had a function for good in the beginning?  Food for thought.  Answers in Genesis presented a lengthy article examining possible pathways how some beneficial E. coli and other bacteria might have degenerated into agents of disease.

Darwin was obsessed with the appearance of natural evil in the world, because his acquaintance with natural theology did not take the Fall and the curse of sin seriously.  William Paley, for all his good reasoning, tried to use induction from the happy things in nature to a benevolent God.  Darwin saw design, but then looked at the suffering and disease everywhere.  Since he could not reconcile parasitism and disease with a benevolent God, he fell away from Paley’s view that originally was a strong influence in his thinking, and decided that design was just an illusion.  So he came up with an even more miracle-working god – chance!
    Without understanding sin and judgment, one cannot correlate the irrefutable evidence of design with the existence of evil.  The world is like a bombed city, with relics of its original goodness clearly evident, but with the marks of judgment just as clear.  The Creator does not plan to make this world a better place.  He is going to destroy it and build a new one (II Peter 3:3-13).  In the meantime, He has left enough marks of good design to put individuals on trial without excuse for denying His existence (Romans 1:16-22), and yet in His grace has provided enough happiness to motivate all people to seek Him (Acts 14:8-18, Acts 17:22-30).  The gospel is a means to escape this present evil world destined for judgment, for a new creation in which righteousness dwells (II Peter 3:11-13).
    Evolutionists mock at this, of course.  OK, take their answer: design is just an illusion.  Machinery emerges.  Weird stuff just happens sometimes (10/03/2010).  Evil doesn’t exist.  Everything came from nothing and is going nowhere.  Morality is a myth because it came from an undirected process of natural selection (10/10/2010).  Be consistent, now, and thank that E. coli when it lays you low, because it is merely showing it is more fit than you.  And no fair taking a stand on any moral issue, including the environment and climate change: the words ought and should are not in the Darwin Dictionary.  Take a random walk in Afghanistan; maybe the mutation-enhancing bullets will do you some good, whatever that word means.

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