Today’s post is part of a special series here on Planet Pailly called Sciency Words. Each week, we take a closer look at an interesting science or science-related term to help us all expand our scientific vocabularies together. Today’s term is:
CONAN THE BACTERIUM
Meet Deinococus radiodurans, a species of bacteria found in truly unexpected locations all over the globe. It’s said to be the toughest bacterium in the world. It’s so tough that it’s earned the nickname Conan the Bacterium.
Don’t panic. Conan the Bacterium is nonpathogenic and does not represent a threat to humans.
Some microorganisms are referred to as extremophiles, because they’ve adapted to survive in some specific extreme environment. Conan is a polyextremophile, because it has adapted to survive in a wide variety of extreme environments. Among other things, Conan can endure:
- Highly acidic environments
- Airless environments
- Waterless environments
- Extremely cold environments
- Extremely radioactive environments
Frankly, it sounds like this little bugger is perfectly adapted for life on Mars, but according to my reading, its genome suggests that it did in fact evolve here on Earth.
Conan’s resistance to radiation is of particular interest to science. It seems that whenever radiation damages Conan’s DNA, even if the DNA is shredded into tiny bits, Conan can stitch its DNA back together again in as little as twelve hours.
Lots of organisms, including humans, have some ability to repair their own damaged DNA. Conan is just a whole lot better at it than the rest of us, and no one’s sure why.
I first learned about Conan the Bacterium in a book called All These Worlds Are Yours: The Scientific Search for Alien Life. I’ll be doing a book review early next week.