DEC 24, 2017 9:46 PM PST

The Smallest Life Form

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

There is a multitude of ways to classify life by size. One could consider mass, height, volume, or even genomic size as a parameter. But how small can life get? There are some incredibly tiny species of bacteria. One of the smallest, for example, is Mycoplasma genitalium. It acts as a parasite and lives inside the bodies of primates in a few places such as the bladder and respiratory tracts. It may be is the smallest organism that is able to replicate and grow independently; it is around 200 to 300 nanometers.

Viruses can get even smaller, but because they require a host to survive there is some debate about whether they qualify as a form of life. Some of the smallest known viruses have genomes of only a few thousand base pairs long. Viruses can save a lot of size by using the cellular machinery of other organisms instead of carrying around their own.

So how small is the smallest? Indeed, a limit of around 200 nanometers has been suggested, and seems to be holding up, so far.
About the Author
BS
Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
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