"Both genius and monster, unique, unexplainable. He has every quirk and every virtue obtainable" mused Ragueneau in Edmond Rostand's bio-play, Cyrano de Bergerac.
Though the play is built around the life events of a French dramatist and duelist, this poetic descriptor easily applies to the relentlessly ostentatious Cyrano of our microbial world, Cyanobacteria.
As resilient and artistic as its namesake, Cyano sustains life in high temperature, geothermal environments where it produces some of the brightest colors in nature, like those found at the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park.
But Cyano also exists in nearly every earthly crevice. It has been detected in soil, rock, lichen, plant matter, and ocean and fresh water, and even found speckled on the backs of sloths. This gram-negative bacterium is so prevalent and multifaceted that it is thought to have influenced biodiversity on Earth — molding the planet into an oxidizing environment more than 2.8 billion years ago through oxygenic photosynthesis.
Some strains of Cyano are able to colonize, gliding gracefully into place despite lacking motile flagella. The resulting sheets or ball-shaped filaments are fortified by thick, gelatinous cell walls (some so impenetrable that they have been recovered fossilized in areas of Nevada). Though seemingly defense-ready, this stubborn system leaves Cyano open to parasitic marine viruses that flourish in particular blooms (and requiring some swim-friendly locales to close).
Boisterous and pompous, strains of Cyano have formed their own ballade in application — marketed in vitamins, minerals and protein supplements; used in washing detergents as well as in genetic research. Recent study has also hinted at its possible application in the generation of clean, green energy. With its many applications abroad, and some yet to be discovered, Cyanobacteria, in its last line, is surely a hit.