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On the Curious Motions of Syphilis and Lyme Disease Bacteria

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The bacteria that cause syphilis and Lyme Disease have something extraordinary in common: they manage to propel themselves through their environment in spite of the fact their tails are located inside their bodies.

For bacteria, they’re also unusually shaped and active. In this movie, you can see the bacteria that cause Lyme Disease moving like living, squirming cavatappi.

Syphilis and Lyme Disease — which together have two of my very favorite Latin names — Treponema pallidum and Borrelia burgdorferi — belong to a group of bacteria called spirochetes that look like squiggles and move like corkscrews. Spirochetes don’t just inflict misery on humans and other animals, though. Many of them do just fine on their own in rivers, ponds, lakes, and oceans. Here’s one captured from a salt marsh in San Francisco Bay.

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