One lab accidentally developed a species of bacteria which doesn't naturally die, but multiplies at usual rate. (And the scientists didn't notice in time, so the bacteria escaped).

EDIT after AlexP's comments: By doesn't naturally die I mean 'a bacterium multiplies as usual, but both daughters survive to multiply as well with very high probability'.


  • It's harmless to humans/animals/plants or at least in quantities compared to usual infectious bacteria species.
  • It doesn't naturally mutate (even in thousands of generations), so the species can't loose its immortality in time.
  • It still can die in extreme conditions like t>100C, high UV radiation, strong acids etc. But it's more resilent than most bacteria. (EDIT: maybe even more resilent than that, if this is what the idea needs to work at all, i.e. resilent enough that accidental death in natural conditions is improbable).
  • It needs the appropriate amount of food and water to multiply. If there's no food it enters kind of a 'sleeping' state and can be awakened again once introduced to a necessary conditions. The same with cold down to freezing temperatures.

Could such bacteria cause an apocalypse or at least a world scale destruction / civilization collaple? Is it also plausible to prevent such a disaster at intermediate stage?

I think the particular questions that need to be answered here are:

  • How fast will this bacteria spread out?
  • What kinds of destruction will the cause in small, medium or large quantities?


  • 3
    $\begingroup$ The question is meaningless. An individual bacterium multiplies by dividing into two daughter bacteria. A long-lived bacterium multiplies very very slowly; I guess that this counts for an "unusual rate". If the bacterium lives 100 years than after one millennium it will have at most 1000 descendants; for bacteria that's a ridiculously low number. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jun 5, 2017 at 13:54
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP, I was thinking more like multiplying into a parent/daughter bacteria, it made sense in my head, even though they are technically the same $\endgroup$
    – Yuriy S
    Jun 5, 2017 at 13:55
  • $\begingroup$ Of course, they should multiply, in the end, I would really prefer to edit the question and stress the unusual resilence, not living up to old age, I agree that's silly $\endgroup$
    – Yuriy S
    Jun 5, 2017 at 13:56
  • $\begingroup$ They are not the same. When a bacterium divides the two daughter bacteria are "new", with the molecular clocks reset. And a bacterial strain which doesn't mutate cannot adapt to new environments. One factor which makes bacteria so versatile is that they evolve not so much by mutations as by incorporating new genes by horizontal gene transfer. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jun 5, 2017 at 13:59
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP, what level of handwaving is allowed for science based questions? The idea is basically to have the a single species of bacteria dangerous by their sheer mass, and investigate the impact they would have on people/environment. Mutations/accidental death shouldn't be allowed because it would make this impossible $\endgroup$
    – Yuriy S
    Jun 5, 2017 at 14:02

1 Answer 1


Given good circumstances, bacteria will already proliferate as long as nutrition sources allow. Death from old age is not a big problem for bacteria.

Bacteria are at the bottom of the food chain. Your new "harmless" bacteria will be enthusiastically eaten by organisms one trophic level above them - for example, plankton. Bacteria (& fungi) are also brutal competitors with each other, and less harmless bacteria (&fungi!) will poison, envelop, lyse and devour, or outcompete your new bacteria. Especially when your new bacteria reproduce to form a delectable meaty meatball of harmlessness. I am even getting a little bit hungry here.

If you want a bacteria with apocalyptic possibility, you could make one which did not fit into the food chain - for example one with all D-amino acids.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ They are also more recilent. For example you can eat them, but can you digest them? What if they multiply inside of you? (PS Thank you for your answer of course) $\endgroup$
    – Yuriy S
    Jun 5, 2017 at 13:44
  • $\begingroup$ I only made them vulnerable to extreme conditions, because it would be implausible to have them survive extreme heat/radiation $\endgroup$
    – Yuriy S
    Jun 5, 2017 at 13:46
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @YuriyS: Whenever a new source of food appears something will quickly evolve to eat it. When man invented nylon, an entirely new substance unlike anything in nature, a strain of nylon-eating bacteria evolved in less than 30 years. Your bacteria are little packages of aminoacids and sugars, protected by some sort of cell wall; some life form will find a way to breach the cell wall and get to the yummy aminoacids and sugars. And opposite chirality does not help; for example, there is at least one bacterial strain which can eat L-glucose. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jun 5, 2017 at 14:12
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP, I see, thank you. This actually makes me feel much safer. So we can't have this kind of disaster in our world at all $\endgroup$
    – Yuriy S
    Jun 5, 2017 at 14:17
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP and Will, should I delete this question? I'm not afraid of downvotes but it it's against the rules somehow, I would prefer to delete it rather than close. I would still like an opportunity to ask a similar question later about an impact of a fast growing mass of bacteria which can't be digested at all by any organism $\endgroup$
    – Yuriy S
    Jun 5, 2017 at 14:25

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