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Bacteria are all around us – and even inside of us! This lesson will examine some of these bacteria, focusing on the class of bacteria called Bacilli. It will cover the orders within this class, characteristics of these bacteria, and some examples.

What Is Bacilli?

In 2001, bacterial spores that caused anthrax were sent to several agencies and individuals through the US postal system.

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This resulted in five deaths and 17 additional infections. Anthrax is a disease and is caused by Bacillus anthracis, a bacterium. Anthrax can enter your body four different ways: through your skin, through ingestion, through injection and, most deadly, through inhalation.The bacteria that causes anthrax is just one of many pathogens (something that can cause disease) in Bacilli, which is a class of bacteria.

Scientists called taxonomists classify living organisms into groups, with kingdoms being the broadest and species being the most specific. The order is as follows:

  • Kingdom
  • Phylum
  • Class
  • Order
  • Genus
  • Species

The class of bacteria known as Bacilli has two orders: Bacillales and Lactobacillales. Let’s take a look at each of these orders. But, before we get started, let’s clear up some areas that get a little sticky.

  • Bacilli is a class of bacteria (this will be the focus of the lesson)
  • Bacillus is a genus of bacteria (genus names are usually italicized or underlined)
  • Bacilli (plural: bacillus) refers to bacteria that have a rod shape

So many words that sound the same but mean different things!

Bacillales and Lactobacillales

Groups of bacteria are often classified based on their shape, how they move, and how the outside of the cell or its covering looks.

In addition to helping taxonomists classify bacteria, these characteristics help scientists design effective antibiotics. Bacteria can come in many shapes, including circles, rods, and spirals. As for the cell’s covering, gram-positive bacteria have a thinner outer covering, whereas gram-negative bacteria have a thicker, multi-layered covering.Members of the order Bacillales, for example, are all gram-positive and are usually rod-shaped. They also produce endospores when the environment becomes challenging. Endospores are dormant forms of the bacteria that can withstand extreme conditions such as high temperatures, disinfectants, or even radiation.

When the environment becomes suitable, the bacteria become active again.Members of the order Lactobacillales are rod- or circle-shaped bacteria that are gram-positive and can withstand acidic conditions. When people think of bacteria, they often think of getting sick, but many Lactobacillales are found inside of your mouth and intestines and are beneficial, if not essential, to human health. A few can also make you sick, such as the bacteria that causes strep throat or the bacteria that causes scarlet fever.


The next time you enjoy wine with cheese, you can thank a genus of bacteria called Lactobacillus, which are in the Lactobacillales order.

These bacteria are also involved in making yogurt, beer, cider, and cocoa.Although there are plenty of good bacteria, there are some bad ones, too. We mentioned anthrax earlier and it is worth noting that the bacteria that causes anthrax comes from the genus Bacillus, which falls under the order Bacillales. Other members of this genus can cause skin conditions, ear infections, and food poisoning.We’ll highlight one final group of bacteria that belong to the Lactobacillales order.

The Streptococcus bacteria are a genus of bacteria that you may already be familiar with. This is the group of bacteria that can cause strep throat, as mentioned earlier, but it can also cause pneumonia, sinus infections, tonsillitis, and urinary infections.

Lesson Summary

Let’s review.

  • There are many different classes of bacteria including the Bacilli class
  • The Bacilli class can be broken down into two orders: Bacillales and Lactobacillales
  • The Bacillales order are gram-positive, rod-shaped, and can make endospores
  • The Lactobacillales order are gram-positive, rod or coccus-shaped, and can withstand acidic conditions

Gram-positive bacteria have a thinner outer covering, whereas gram-negative bacteria have a thicker, multi-layered covering. Some of the bacteria are helpful, like Lactobacillus, which are used in the beer-making process, but many are also harmful, like the bacteria that causes anthrax.

So, as you sit down tonight with a cold beer and a severe sinus infection, you can thank the class Bacilli for both.

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