Bacteria that changed the world: Prochlorococcus

In our Bacterial World exhibition we offer a selection of ten bacteria that have changed the world, some in profound ways. In this series of short fact-file posts we present one of the ten each week. This week’s bacteria are…

Prochlorococcus
– the Oxygen-Makers

Where they live
Prochlorococcus bacteria grow anywhere damp, in salt water or fresh. They are similar to the blue cyanobacteria which thrived in the far-distant past on Earth.

Why they are important
2.3-2.4 billion years ago, cyanobacteria in the oceans began producing oxygen for the first time, changing the Earth’s environment completely.

How they are named
The Greek word for blue is cyan, giving the blue cyanobacteria their name. Until recently, they were known as blue-green algae, but cyanobacteria are actually an earlier and simpler form of life than algae.

How they work
Like all cyanobacteria, Prochlorococcus bacteria harvest energy from the Sun, absorb carbon dioxide and give out oxygen – the process called photosynthesis.

Top image: Transmission Electron Micrograph (TEM) image of Prochlorococcus coloured green
Copyright: Luke Thompson, Chisholm Lab; Nikki Watson, Whitehead (MIT), 2007