Bacteria at Work

Contributor: Felicia Sabur. Lesson ID: 11649

Do you have a job or at least chores to do at your house? You're not alone. There are zillions of bacteria working in and for you right now, from making and digesting food to saving the environment!


Life Science

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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In 2010, the BP oil spill released 1.84 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Along with various clean-up methods, bacteria in the ocean played a huge role in eliminating some of the harmful oil from the ocean waters.

  • How did bacteria help clean up the oil?

Bacteria can affect your health in positive and negative ways.

Some are harmful bacteria, such as vibrio cholerea, which causes Cholera, that can cause death in severe untreated cases. However, good bacteria, such as lactobacillus acidophilus, are very helpful to your digestive system and help you stay healthy.

Your interactions with bacteria don't end with the internal workings of your body. Bacteria are used in many industries from food to biofuels, and some bacteria help protect our environment.

In this lesson, you will look at how the food, fuel, and cosmetic industries have been using bacteria.

Before you continue, if you missed, or need to review, the previous eight lessons in this Viruses and Bacteria series, find them under Related Lessons in the right-hand sidebar.

Fuel industry

During the BP oil spill off the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, bacteria played a integral part in the cleanup. Bacteria like the Alcanovorax bacteria are often found near vents in the ocean floor where crude oil naturally seeps up from deep in the earth's crust.

As you watch Can Microbes Clean Up Our Oily Mess? - Instant Egghead #58, by Scientific American, fill out Lesson Nine in the Viruses and Bacteria Unit Workbook. (If you did not download this workbook in a previous lesson, you can download and print a new copy from Downloadable Resources in the right-hand sidebar.)

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In the video, you learned that bacteria helped clean up the oil, and they can even help with the issues of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

  • How do scientists believe they may be able to speed up the rate at which plastic-eating microbes consume the plastic in the ocean?

Cosmetic industry

Bacteria are also being used in many skin care products.

In the article Should You Put Yogurt on Your Face?, written by Victoria Dawson Hoff for Elle Magazine Online, the newest trend in cosmetics — including probiotics in facial products — is discussed. Researchers are also investigating what strands of bacteria are more beneficial to certain skin conditions.

After reading the article, complete the "Cosmetic Industry" section of Lesson Nine in the Viruses and Bacteria Unit Workbook.

  • What are your thoughts about this new trend?

Food industry

The use of bacteria in the food industry is an idea that you are probably familiar with. Bacteria help the production of fermented foods, such as cheese and even some meat products.

Properly fermented foods can heal and restore your gut health. Research over the past 20 years has shown that gut health is critical to overall health. An unhealthy gut can contribute to a wide range of diseases, including diabetes, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, autism spectrum disorder, depression, and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Read this short article on Microorganisms in food production, by the European Food & Feed Cultures Association. Be sure to scroll down and view microorganisms in each food industry as well.

After reading the article, complete the "Food Industry" section of Lesson Nine in the Viruses and Bacteria Unit Workbook.

  • How many of these foods mentioned in the article have you tried?
  • Do you have any foods in your kitchen that are made with lactic bacteria?

These are just a few of the industries that use bacteria. Other industries that use bacteria include the medical field, agriculture, genetic engineering, and the biotechnology sector. Although some bacteria are harmful to your health, there are many good bacteria that help your health and the environment every day.

Bacteria continuously play an important role in the economy.

In the Got It? section, you will be investigating further how bacteria are being used in these industries and others.

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