It has been discovered that certain slime-forming bacteria actually have the wonderful sense of sight. Believe it or not but they can see.
After 300 years of observational studies, scientists are finally able to gauge how bacteria behave. Apparently they can see in a manner similar to us humans. British and German experts published the results of their study in the journal eLife.
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Bacterial cells seem to act like a microscopic eyeball. They may in fact be the world’s most ancient and tiniest eyeballs or biological cameras. The very idea of bacteria being able to view their world in a way like us humans is intriguing to say the least.
Termed cyanobacteria, these super-small organisms form a slimy green layer on rocks and solid natural surfaces. The particular type of cyanobacteria studied were the Synechocystis.
Found in fresh waters of lakes and also in rivers, these bacteria underwent some serious evolutionary changes 2.7 billion years ago. They can create oxygen and carbon dioxide via the energy from solar rays.
This process is called photosynthesis. These changes led to the Ice Age and mass extinctions. Since these bacteria are capable of photosynthesis, the next legitimate question that the scientists asked was if they could see things.
And here they discovered to their surprise that such was indeed the case.
Through built-in photo sensors, these bacteria sense light. They also exhibit phototaxis, the ability to have perception of and move towards a source of light.
This is possible since the very cell body of the bacteria acts like a single lens. When light rays hit the surface of the spherical bacteria, it refracts to the back side.
Thus the cell moves away from the focal point. It takes a few minutes for the bacteria to grow pili which consist of small tentacles that reach out towards the light source.
The surface the pili reach for is held on to and thus the bacteria moves forward by dragging itself. It is not a recent discovery that bacteria respond to light. This has been known since quite some time.
But now there is proof that bacteria are optical organisms. There were conjectures and hypotheses up until now. However, now we are sure since seeing is believing (no pun intended).
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Besides these spherical bacteria, the rod-shaped ones are also thought to be sensitive to light. They in fact act like optical fibers. Bacteria display convergent evolution and the similarity between their sense of sight and vision in higher creatures may be surprising but it is a hard fact of science.