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Bacillus is everywhere, the party never stops in the Bacillus house. Salt, heat, cold, drought. Bacillus don’t care, they can hang. They’ve got a survival structure called an endospore, making them virtually indestructible. They mostly like to breathe oxygen, but they can also ferment without it. Bacillus are part of the phylum Firmicutes (makes me think of those vegan ice cream sandwiches, Tofutti Cuties).

Bacillus dominate the entire composting process, being one of the most abundant organisms during all three phases. During the thermophilic phase, mesophilic organisms die back, and it is Bacillus and Actinobacteria that co-dominate this phase, degrading most of the lignocellulose material (plant cell walls, woody and carbonaceous) that goes into humus formation.

Bacillus subtilis is a species that is not pathogenic but can contaminate and spoil food. They are naturally found in mesophilic environments in the upper soil layer, where they support plant nutrient cycling and disease suppression through the production of antibiotics and anti-fungal compounds. They’re also becoming part of probiotic blends as they include more soil-based organisms.

There are some other more notorious species of Bacillus: B. anthracis causes anthrax, and B. cereus causes food poisoning.

B. thuringensis produces a toxin that can kill insects and is used as an insecticide. A portion of the Bt genome has been incorporated into into some food crops like corn, making it more resistant to pests. Bt is approved for organic certification as a biological pesticide. During sporulation they produce crystal proteins (cry proteins) called gamma-endotoxins which are insecticidal, with specific action against moths and butterflies, flies and mosquitoes, beetles, wasps, ants, sawflies, and nematodes. 

Multiple insects have developed resistance to Bt and it can have effects on non-target organisms like monarch butterflies. Bt foods are linked to leaky gut and autoimmune disorders, as well as allergies and developmental disabilities.

So there’s few outliers from the rest of the pack, 3 species pose dangers to human health. The rest of them have been hanging out with us all along. Everywhere in the soil, compost, and in our bodies. Harness some of that ubiquitous, indestructible protection with some artifacts of micro-cosmic wonder.

Check out the rest of the bacteria in the Cosmic Compost series

Cosmic Compost: A design collection celebrating the microscopic universe in the dust beneath our feet, acknowledging some of the most significant microbial players in the ecology of decomposition through the aesthetic of cosmic wonder.

Greeting Cards + Postcards:

Art Prints + Collectibles:

Soilify! A complete course series on Soil + Compost Ecology for creative activists, community composters, and small-scale farmers.