Are Bacteria Powerful?

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Eddie Hall is a weakling. Sure, the British strongman holds the world record in the deadlift, raising an astonishing 500 kg (1,102 lbs) in 2016 -- more than the weight of a grand piano -- but compared with the gonorrhea bacterium, Hall's feat is laughable. These tiny sexually-transmitted bacteria can pull with a force equal to 100,000 times their body weight. That would be like Hall -- who weighs approximately 360 lbs, or 163 kg -- pulling China's Spring Temple Buddha statue, which is the world's largest statue and stands more than twice the height of the Statue of Liberty. The gonorrhea bacterium is the strongest organism known to man, but it took a lot of scientific effort to figure that out. A team from Columbia University knew that the bacteria used filaments called pili to crawl, but until they watched them bend some pillars in a field of gel, they didn't realize just how strong they were. In truth, the strongest pull the bacteria exerted was only the equivalent of about one billionth of a Newton, but considering the weight of the bacteria, the force was remarkable and "the strongest biological motor known to date," the group said.

Some bacteria basics:

  • People first learned about bacteria in 1674, when Dutch scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek saw them under the newly-invented microscope.

  • The average person has 10 times more bacterial cells than human cells.

  • If you could line up all of the bacteria on Earth, they would stretch to the edge of the visible universe.

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