(Gr. bakterion, a stick; pl: bacteria)  Common name for the class Schizomycetes: minute (0.5-5mm), unicellular organisms, without a distinct nucleus. Bacteria are prokaryotes, and most of them are identified by means of Gram staining (q.v.). They are classified on the basis of their oxygen requirement (aerobic vs anaerobic) and shape (spherical = coccus; rodlike = bacillus; spiral = spirillum; comma-shaped = vibrio; corkscrew-shaped = spirochaete; filamentous). Bacteria usually reproduce asexually, by simple cell division, although a few undergo a form of sexual reproduction, termed conjugation. A few bacteria can photosynthesize (including green-blue cyanobacteria), some are saprophytes and others are parasites and can cause diseases. They are major agents of fermentation, putrefaction and decay, and frequently a source of contamination in tissue culture. In plant pathology, strains of bacteria causing disease in specific plant cultivars are called pathovars (q.v.).

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