A Zen like bacteria

Possibly the smallest form of life on Earth. Cryo-transmission electron microscopy captured numerous hairlike appendages radiating from the surface of this ultra-small bacteria cell. The scientists theorize the pili-like structures enable the cell to connect with other microbes and obtain life-giving resources. The scale bar is 100 nanometers. Credit: Berkeley Lab

The heading for this post came to my mind as I a read a news from Berkeley and LBNL. In this news scientists report on a recent study that led to discover what is believed to be the smallest autonomous life on Earth (viruses are smaller but they need to piggy back on a living cell to multiply, hence they are not autonomous).

They say, quote, "these ultra small bacteria are as small as life can get".

That reminded me of Zen rock gardens I saw in Japan. Their beauty is in the power of representing the essence of Nature in a complete way yet using the smallest set of components possible. The most famous example is possibly the Ryöan-ji rock garden in Kyoto that achieves that feat using just 5 groups of rocks. One group of 5 stones, two groups of three and two groups of two. Their number, aggregation and placement stimulate meditation on life. Apparently it won't be possible to do that with a smaller number of rocks.

So the scientists say about these newly discovered bacteria. The discovery was possible filtering groundwater with a membrane with pores of 0.2µm. Normal sized bacteria will not go through.

The filtered water was observed using cry-transmission electron microscopy. That led to the discovery of this tiny form of life.  One of this bacteria is about 200nm across with a volume of 0.009 cubic microns, and yet they have a sophisticated internal structures that allows life to exist creating order out of molecular chaos.

Interestingly, scientists are studying how life can achieve this order and possibly the lessons learnt could be used in the manufacturing of our chips in the future. We are in the realm of nanotech, not because we are dealing with small entities, rather because these are formed in a bottom up fashion (whilst our chip making is based on a top down manufacturing). And this is very interesting, as Richard Feynman said: there is plenty of room at the bottom!

Author - Roberto Saracco

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