In a crisis, bacteria have a few survival tricks hidden in their sleeves, for example, bacteria that eat their fellows to survive under harsh conditions, such as lack of nutrients. Their cannibalism is so effective that scientists assume that bacteria can live in sleep for millions of years.
Imagine that one day the plane you're on is landing on an uninhabited island, like in the series "Staying Alive," and there's no food.
It turns out that bacteria would become. According to a magazine published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they even eat their relatives.
Bacteria can live a thousand days without food.
In this study, bacteria were taken from the soil and grown in a salt solubber for 1,000 days; they were deprived of all food sources, but after more than two and a half years, it turned out that they were still alive!
How is that possible? Because all living organisms need food to survive. It turns out bacteria are not very sentimental and, to survive, eat the remains of their dead friends and relatives.
They do what they have to do to survive, don't say that bacteria broke all their loyalty and ate their comrades alive, stronger bacteria just ate the remains of the weaker who starved and died.
Whether the stronger bacteria killed the weaker is unknown, possibly bacterial murders.
There are also some bacteria, such as Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus, which can eat other bacteria alive, but this is a story for another time.
So... that's all they've been doing for survival, is there enough dead bacteria left behind to support hungry bacteria for years, decades, or even centuries?
Bacteria have energy conservation mechanisms.
When we get sick or come home tired after a long day's work, we often get lazy and non-energy, and we don't want to do anything but curl up in bed.
Bacteria feel the same way. They become so hungry and energyless that they suspend or slow down all other biological processes. It's equivalent to a sense of flaccidity, like a bear falling into a winter hibernation, so their energy needs are decreasing, allowing them to save the little energy they have left.
The bacillas, the bacteria involved in the study, were the most durable. These bacteria have the ability to become endospores. It's a common survival tool used by Bacillus species every time they experience long periods of stress. It's because of this special ability that they have the most impressive life expectancy.
So the Bacterium Bacillus makes a copy of its DNA, puts it in a spore covered with protective proteins, which makes it able to survive a harsh journey, which remains in a sleepy state until the environment is more sustainable for survival.
In this case, if the flask in which the bacteria grew had been fed, the spores would have opened, and the new bacterial cells would have started to grow.
However, not all types of bacteria have this disputing power; other types of bacteria eventually die earlier and do not survive for that long; however, the dispute requires energy, which means that the bacillas must feed on the remains of dead bacteria in order to generate energy to do so.
How long can bacteria survive without food?
Unfortunately, the study was conducted only for 1,000 days, but the authors of the study, based on mathematical analysis, suggest that the bacteria involved in the study could live without food for about 100,000 years!
This number was calculated by examining the rate of growth and growth of hungry bacteria.
From a realistic point of view, however, it would be very difficult to prove this scientifically, given that leading scientists would have been long dead before they could determine whether the hypothesis was correct!
In addition to hunger, bacteria can survive under very difficult conditions, from the extremely harsh conditions of the scorching deserts to the ice-covered continents, bacteria are always climbing out, and more than a year ago, several Japanese scientists revived bacteria in the ocean, which were in a more sleeping state.
Even in sediments taken from the deepest and darkest parts of the ocean, bacteria were found, despite the fact that there is virtually no energy, somehow they survive!
This is what scientists are most interested in. How do they do it? Understanding it would allow us to better understand evolution and perhaps even how life is born on our big blue planet.
Scientists who study hungry bacteria believe that understanding the dynamics of the survival of bacteria is crucial to understanding the history of life on our planet, and it can explain how life survived billions of years ago, when the Earth was far from a welcoming place.
This information could be used to develop new ways to control bacteria resistant to antibiotics and to find ways to control and treat more aggressive diseases, all of which would be easier if we understood their weaknesses.
In answer to the main question, yes, bacteria can become cannibals if they starve, but they seem to feed on the remains of the dead. Don't worry, they don't become zombies who want the flesh of the living!