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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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Maps

Mapped: Chinese Provinces With Cities Over 1 Million People

Some Chinese provinces are so populous they rival entire countries. But how many of them have cities over a million people?

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A cropped map of all the Chinese provinces with cities over 1 million people.

Mapped: Chinese Provinces With Cities Over 1 Million People

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Almost two-thirds of the 1.4 billion Chinese population lives in an urban area. But how does this play out across the country’s geography?

This map shows the Chinese provinces with cities over a million residents. Data for this graphic is sourced from citypopulation.de.

Ranked: Chinese Provinces With Cities Over 1 Million People

China’s Guangdong province has 17 cities with a population size of 1 million or more. It is also China’s most populous province, home to 127 million people. This makes it comparable to the size of Japan, the 12th most populous country in the world.

RankProvinceCities With 1 Million People
1Guangdong17
2Jiangsu12
3Shandong9
4Hebei6
5Zhejiang6
6Liaoning5
7Guangxi*4
8Henan4
9Anhui3
10Fujian3
11Heilongjiang3
12Hubei3
13Hunan3
14Inner Mongolia*3
15Jiangxi3
16Jilin2
17Gansu2
18Shaanxi2
19Shanxi2
20Sichuan2
21Xinjiang*2
22Beijing**1
23Chongqing**1
24Guizhou1
25Hainan1
26Ningxia*1
27Qinghai1
28Shanghai**1
29Tianjin**1
30Yunnan1
31Hong Kong***1
32Macao***1

*Autonomous Region. **Direct-Administered Municipality. ***Special Administrative Region.

Jiangsu, ranked fourth in population overall, is the only other province which has 10+ cities with a million or more inhabitants.

Meanwhile, some of China’s most populous cities—Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin, and Chongqing—are administered directly by the central government, and do not fall under provincial control.

In fact, Shanghai and Beijing have informal “population caps” to prevent them from growing larger, in a bid to reduce pollution, overcrowding, and pressure on public services.

On the other hand, Tibet’s cold climes and rugged terrain make for a sparsely-populated area, totalling 3 million people across 1.2 million km². Tibet is the only province-level division in China without a single city over a million residents.

All together, China has 105 cities with more than one million inhabitants. For comparison, India has 65, and the U.S. has nine.

Learn More About Population Metrics from Visual Capitalist

If you enjoyed this post, check out Interactive Map: The World as 1,000 People. This visualization shows how unevenly people are distributed across the globe, re-imagining the entire 8 billion human population as only 1,000 people.

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