Share Button

Coley Bacterium Finds A Home

The incubator was warm and dark. In the middle of a flat, round glass dish, a tiny white spot was growing larger each hour. The white spot was made up of bacteria -- millions of them. A scientist was growing them for an experiment.

When the spot was just a wee bit larger than the head of a pin, the scientist looked inside the incubator. "That's just fine," he said, and he took out the dish. At that very moment, one of the bacteria, which looked like a tiny rod, divided in half. Each half looked like a tiny copy of its parent, and there was nothing to tell them apart. But one was soon to have some unusual adventures. Let us call him Coley.

As the scientist was carrying the dish to his desk, he tripped. The dish went flying through the air and crashed on the floor. Bits of glass were scattered all over. The round little spot of growing bacteria was now a hundred little specks.

The scientist quickly cleaned up the mess. But he missed Coley. This little bacterium, together with a bit of food and a drop of water, had been thrown into a crack in the comer.

Soon Coley began to get worried. His water was drying up. So he did a strange thing. He formed a tough little coat around his body and curled up tightly inside. Now he was like an astronaut inside a space capsule. But he would be able to do without food and water until he found just the right home.

Coley was so tiny that he was very light. The next time someone opened the door, the draft of air whisked him up into the room. Around and around he whirled, then settled down -- right onto the scientist's shoe.

The scientist did not know he had a little capsule on his shoe. For he could not have seen Coley without a microscope. The little bacterium was still on the scientist's shoe when he finished work. He stayed there through the drive home. But then, when the scientist walked across the lawn, Coley's capsule fell off onto the ground.

There was plenty of water on the soil. And there were bacteria there, too, feeding and multiplying. But none of them looked like Coley. And somehow he knew that this was not the right home for him. So he stayed inside his capsule. There were bigger creatures in the soil, too. They would look like just a speck to you, but to the bacteria they were giant monsters. These were protozoa. Some of them swam with lashing tails. Others were jellylike blobs that crept along. One of them was creeping toward Coley now.

It was eating bacteria. It seemed to flow right over them and swallow them in. It was just about to eat Coley!

Suddenly there was an earthquake -- at least it seemed like an earthquake to the tiny soil creatures. A mosquito had landed on the ground, and one of her legs was right in the tiny drop of water where Coley was about to be eaten by the protozoan monster. The tiny waves that washed back and forth swished Coley onto the mosquito's leg. He was still clinging there when she took off again a moment later.

Up, up the mosquito flew. She zoomed around, looking for something. She found the scientist's son, playing with his dog in the yard. She landed on his arm and bit him.

Smack! With a slap the boy squashed the mosquito. Coley was knocked off onto the boy's skin. The boy scratched the bite, and he pushed Coley right into the tiny cut in his arm. Now the blood carried the little bacterium deep into the boy's body.

There was plenty of food and water in the boy's blood. There were bacteria there, too. These were disease germs. They would make the boy sick if they got a chance. But white blood cells were swarming about. They were eating up the disease bacteria. Why didn't they eat Coley? Perhaps it was because he was still inside his capsule. Somehow he knew that this was not the right home for him.

Round the boy's body Coley went, through the long tubes of the blood stream. He went through the boy's heart, and through his brain. And then he came back to the boy's arm. The hole that the mosquito made was almost closed, now. A sticky clot was covering it. But Coley was carried out with the last drop of blood that flowed out through the mosquito bite.

The drop of blood splashed down onto the grass. Then the scientist's son ripped off the blade of grass and started to chew on it. Before Coley knew it, he went sliding down the boy's throat and into his stomach. There his tough little capsule protected him from the acid that was killing other bacteria. Soon Coley was being pushed further, into the boy's intestines.

There were bacteria here, too. And many of them looked just like Coley. They were eating and growing, and helping the boy by making vitamins for him. Suddenly Coley stretched, and his tough little coat burst to let him out. The little bacterium had found a home.




©1973, 2013 The Silversteins