Thursday, March 29, 2012

Are You As Smart As A Bacterium?

By Philip Copitch, Ph.D.

Tool making

Today let's have a little fun with the concept that using tools separates us humans from the animals. You have probably heard that humans and a few other animals use tools to get the jobs we need to do... done. Tool use shows intelligence, right?... well maybe not.

Otters use rocks that they place on their tummies to help them break open stubborn clams.

Crows use tools to get to food. They even use multiple toods in sequences to get their needs met.

Monkeys, chimps, and gorillas use tools such as large sticks or stones as powerful weapons. They also use small sticks to gather food.

The adorable dolphin uses sea sponges to protect its nose when foraging for food that is hiding in sandy ocean floors. (Not a happy day for the lowly sea sponge.)

More info see: Mystery of Dolphin Tool Use Solved by GU Researchers - Georgetown University

But what about a bacterium

Bacterium is a single bacteria. Bacteria are amazing, they can help us digest our food (in our intestines) or kill us, depending on what kind they are. Bacteria are single celled microscopic organisms, tiny for sure, but plentiful. In fact, if you add all the bacteria of the Earth together their biomass would be greater than all the plants and animals of the Earth combined.

But are they tool using little germs?

According to Douglas Fox in the April 2012 issue of Discover Magazine the answer is yes.  Scientists report that P. syringae bacteria are tool users. 
"...syringae bacteria on leaves actually use ice crystals as crowbars to rip open plant cells and grab their nutrients."
Not bad for a single celled organism with no arms or opposable thumbs.

Bacteria were here first, we are evolving on their planet. Have a nice day!