Visualized: The Many Shapes of Bacteria
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Visualized: The Many Shapes of Bacteria

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Infographic illustrating the visual diversity of bacteria

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Invisible Diversity: The Many Shapes of Bacteria

Bacteria are amazing.

They were the first form of life to appear on Earth almost 3.8 billion years ago.

They make up the second most abundant lifeform, only outweighed by plants.

And most interesting of all: they exist in practically every environment on our planet, including areas where no other lifeforms can survive. As a result, bacteria exhibit a wide variety of appearances, behaviors, and applications similar to the lifeforms we see in our everyday lives.

The incredible diversity of bacteria goes underappreciated simply because they are invisible to the naked eye. Here, we illustrate how researchers classify these creatures on the basis of appearance, giving you a glimpse into this microscopic world.

A Life of Culture

Though bacteria may look similar to other microorganisms like fungi or plankton, they are entirely unique on a microscopic and genetic level.

Bacteria make up one of the three main domains of life. All life shares its earliest ancestor with this group of microbes, alongside two other domains: the Archaea and the Eukarya.

Archaea are very similar to bacteria, but have different contents making up their cell walls.

Eukarya largely consists of complex, multicellular life, like fungi, plants, and animals. Bacteria are similar to its single-celled members because all bacteria are also unicellular. However, while all Eukarya have nuclear membranes that store genetic material, bacteria do not.

Bacteria have their genetic material free-floating within their cellular bodies. This impacts how their genes are encoded, how proteins are synthesized, and how they reproduce. For example, bacteria do not reproduce sexually. Instead, they reproduce on their own.

Bacteria undergo a process called binary fission, where any one cell divides into two identical cells, and so on. Fission occurs quickly. In minutes, populations can double rapidly, eventually forming a community of genetically identical microbes called a colony.

Colonies can be visible to the human eye and can take on a variety of different shapes, textures, sizes, colors, and behaviors. You might be familiar with some of these:

Superstars of a Tiny World

The following are some interesting bacterial species, some of which you may be familiar with:

Epulopiscium spp

This species is unusually large, ranging from 200-700 micrometers in length. They are also incredible picky, living only within the guts of sturgeon, a type of large fish.

Deinococcus radiodurans

D. radiodurans is a coccus-shaped species that can withstand 1,500 times the dose of radiation that a human can.

Escherichia coli

Despite being known famously for poisoning food and agriculture spaces from time to time, not all E.coli species are dangerous.

Desulforudis audaxviator

Down in the depths of a South African gold mine, this species thrives without oxygen, sunlight, or friends—it is the only living species in its ecosystem. It survives eating minerals in the surrounding rock.

Helicobacter pylori

Known for causing stomach ulcers, this spiral-shaped species has also been associated with many cancers that impact the lymphoid tissue.

Planococcus halocryophillus

Most living things cease to survive in cold temperatures, but P. halocryophillus thrives in permafrost in the High Arctic where temperatures can drop below -25°C/-12°F.

‘Bact’ to the Future

Despite their microscopic size, the contributions bacteria make to our daily lives are enormous. Researchers everyday are using them to study new environments, create new drug therapies, and even build new materials.

Scientists can profile the diversity of species living in a habitat by extracting DNA from an environmental sample. Known as metagenomics, this field of genetics commonly studies bacterial populations.

In oxygen-free habitats, bacteria continuously find alternative sources of energy. Some have even evolved to eat plastic or metal that have been discarded in the ocean.

The healthcare industry uses bacteria to help create antibiotics, vaccines, and other metabolic products. They also play a major role in a new line of self-building materials, which include “self-healing” concrete and “living bricks”.

Those are just a few of the many examples in which bacteria impact our daily lives. Although they are invisible, without them, our world would undoubtedly look like a much different place.

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Automotive

The Most Fuel Efficient Cars From 1975 to Today

This infographic lists the most fuel efficient cars over the past 46 years, including the current leader for 2023.

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The Most Fuel Efficient Cars From 1975 to Today

When shopping for a new car, what is the most important factor you look for? According to Statista, it’s not design, quality, or even safety—it’s fuel efficiency.

Because of this, automakers are always looking for clever ways to improve gas mileage in their cars. Beating the competition by even the slimmest of margins can give valuable bragging rights within a segment.

In this infographic, we’ve used data from the EPA’s 2022 Automotive Trends Report to list off the most fuel efficient cars from 1975 to today.

Editor’s note: This is from a U.S. government agency, so the data shown skews towards cars sold in North America.

Data Overview

All of the information in the above infographic is listed in the table below. Data was only available in 5-year increments up until 2005, after which it switches to annual.

Model YearMakeModelReal World Fuel Economy (mpg)Engine Type
1975HondaCivic28.3Gas
1980VWRabbit40.3Diesel
1985ChevroletSprint49.6Gas
1990GeoMetro53.4Gas
1995HondaCivic47.3Gas
2000HondaInsight57.4Hybrid
2005HondaInsight53.3Hybrid
2006HondaInsight53Hybrid
2007ToyotaPrius46.2Hybrid
2008ToyotaPrius46.2Hybrid
2009ToyotaPrius46.2Hybrid
2010HondaFCX60.2FCEV
2011BMWActive E100.6EV
2012Mitsubishii-MiEV109EV
2013ToyotaiQ EV117EV
2014BMWi3121.3EV
2015BMWi3121.3EV
2016BMWi3121.3EV
2017HyundaiIoniq Electric132.6EV
2018HyundaiIoniq Electric132.6EV
2019HyundaiIoniq Electric132.6EV
2020Tesla3138.6EV
2021Tesla3139.1EV

From this dataset, we can identify three distinct approaches to maximizing fuel efficiency.

Downsizing

Prior to 2000, the best way for automakers to achieve good fuel efficiency was by downsizing. Making cars smaller (lighter) meant they could also be fitted with very small engines.

For example, the 1985 Chevrolet Sprint was rated at 49.6 MPG, but had a sluggish 0-60 time of 15 seconds.

Hybrids

The 2000s saw the introduction of mass-market hybrid vehicles like the Honda Insight and Toyota Prius. By including a small battery to support the combustion engine, automakers could achieve good MPGs without sacrificing so heavily on size.

While the Insight achieved better fuel economy than the Prius, it was the latter that became synonymous with the term “hybrid”. This was largely due to the Prius’ more practical 4-door design.

The following table compares annual U.S. sales figures for both models. Insight sales have fluctuated drastically because Honda has produced the model in several short spans (1999-2006, 2009-2014, 2018-2022).

YearInsight SalesPrius Sales
2005666107,155
2006722106,971
20073181,221
2008-158,884
200920,572150,831
201020,962140,928
201115,549136,464
20126,619236,655
20134,802234,228
20143,965207,372
20151,458184,794
201667136,629
20173108,661
201812,51387,590
201923,68669,718
202015,93243,525
202118,68559,010
20227,62833,352

Source: goodcarbadcar.net

The Prius may have dominated the hybrid market for a long time, but it too has run into troubles. Sales have been declining since 2014, even setting historic lows in recent years.

There are several reasons behind this trend, with one being a wider availability of hybrid models from other brands. We also can’t ignore the release of the Tesla Model 3, which began shipping to customers in 2017.

Electric Vehicles

We’re currently in the middle of a historic transition to electric vehicles. However, because EVs do not use fuel, the EPA had to develop a new system called MPGe (miles per gallon of gasoline-equivalent).

This new metric gives us the ability to compare the efficiency of EVs with traditional gas-powered cars. An underlying assumption of MPGe is that 33.7 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity is comparable to the energy content of a gallon of fuel.

The most fuel efficient car you can buy today is the 2023 Lucid Air, which achieves 140 MPGe. Close behind it is the 2023 Tesla Model 3 RWD, which is rated at 132 MPGe.

Check out this page to see the EPA’s top 10 most efficient vehicles for 2023.

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