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Q: They aren't very big but they are very, very many. Line up 25,000 of them end-to-end and they would extend for roughly 1 inch. There are more of them than all other organisms combined, living in more places and working in a greater variety of metabolic ways. They alone comprised the first half of life's history, with no slackening in diversity thereafter, and most surprisingly, according to paleontologist Stephen J. Gould, in total biomass, they "may exceed all the rest of life combined, even forest trees, once we include the subterranean populations as well." What are these remarkable organisms?

A: As Gould was fond of reminding his audience, by any reasonable objective criteria, we are living not in the Age of Mammals but in the Age of Bacteria. The number of bacterial cells on Earth has been estimated as 5 million trillion trillion (5 followed by 30 zeros), and if lined up end-to-end, their length would roughly correspond to the distance light would travel in 500 million years. This is far, far beyond our closest neighboring stars and amounts to about 1% of the radius of the observable universe!

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  Today is Tuesday, July 22, the 203rd day of 2014. There are 162 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: Everybody is invited to go on a moonlight excursion next Monday evening on the steamer New Boston. The trip will be from Davenport to Muscatine and back.
1889 -- 125 years ago: The mayor and bridge committee let a contract to the Clinton Bridge company for a $1,125 iron bridge across Sears canal near Milan.
1914 -- 100 years ago: Injunction proceedings to compel the Central Association to keep a baseball team in Rock Island for the remainder of the season were contemplated by some of the Rock Island fans, but they decided to defer action.
1939 -- 75 years ago: The first of the new and more powerful diesel engines built for the Rock Island Lines for the proposed Chicago-Denver run, passed thru the Tri-Cities this morning.
1964 -- 50 years ago: The Rock Island Rescue Mission is negotiating for the purchase of the Prince Hall Masonic Home located at 37th Avenue and 5th Street, Rock Island.
1989 -- 25 years ago: Quad Cities Container Terminal is being lauded as a giant business boon that will save several days and hundreds of dollars on each goods shipment to the coasts. The Quad Cities Container Terminal is the final piece of the puzzle that opens up increase access to world markets, Robert Goldstein said.

(More History)