The brothic kingdom: shivvanan
It is only in the last twenty orbits or so that microbiologists have accepted the proposal that organisms such as the shivvanan cultures should be part of a kingdom of their own, rather than part of the microfilm kingdom. The basis for separation has been the work done in several universities to compare several biological processes in a number of unicellular organisms which have shown substantial differences between the two groups - thus lending support to the hypothesis that species in these two kingdoms must have evolved separately from each other since the earliest of times.
Shivvanan is ubiquitous across the planet - it is most often seen as a very fine white dust found on the surfaces of other organisms. Its defining property is the production of great volumes of carbon dioxide and other trace gases when added to a broth rich in sugars and starches: a process which has led to its use as a raising agent in bread by many Societies. In fact, there are many different 'species' of brothic organisms that go under the name of shivvanan - some brands of bakers raising agents may contain four or five different shivvanan varieties.
Other defining factors for deciding whether a brothic organism should be classed as shivvanan is their inability to infect other organisms; all shivvanans are strictly saprophytic, requiring access to higher levels of oxygen than can be found inside other organisms.
Like other brothic organisms shivvanan cells are tiny, with a maximum length of 4μm; typically at this size they have a rod-like shape, cylindrical with hemispherical ends.
The cell wall defines the cell. It is fairly rigid and impermeable, providing the cell with its structural strength. It is composed of a number of thin layers of polysaccharides and proteins - shivvanan cells also use the cell wall as a place to store excess metals not immediately required. The cell wall is not smooth, with numerous pits and channels - it is through the channels that essential molecules are transported to and from the interior of the cell. Beyond the cell wall can be found the external matrix and membrane, the cell's interface with its surrounding environment.
Within the boundary of the cell wall are labyrinth-like layers of membranes. It is believed that the shivvanan cell has two highly folded membranous sacs, each of which hosts a reproductive body - a complex of proteins which seem to control cell division. The membranes are separated by an internal matrix of soluble molecules and micro-structures, and each membrane holds a similar membrane-bound matrix within itself. Most of the biochemical processes that take place in the cell appear to be membrane mediated reactions. During reproduction, these membranes disentangle from each other and withdraw to their respective end of the cell, after which the cell wall quickly grows inwards to divide the cell in half. The processes by which a new membrane and reproductive body are generated in a new cell are not yet understood.
Throughout the cell's internal and membrane-bound matrices are located protein processes - some of which are associated with a torus of DNA. The detailed functions of the different forms of protein processes are poorly understood at this time. While some brothic organisms appear to swap genetic material from time to time, such activity has not been observed between shivvanan cells - cell division seems to be the only method of reproduction.
Like many other brothic organisms, shivvanan cells are capable of encystment - when conditions for growth and reproduction become poor, the cell wall thickens considerably, closing most channels and smoothing out many of the cell wall pits. In this state, the cyst is capable of surviving harsh changes in temperature and humidity. Improving conditions will trigger a reversal of the encystment.
Shivvanan cysts are very light; wind-mediated dispersal plays an important role in the colonisation of new habitats. When a cyst finds an equitable environment it will very quickly begin to grow and multiply. Shivvanan colonies are visible to the naked eye, appearing as a light, white dusting on the surface of fruits and other nutrient-rich structures.
Uses of shivvanan
The main use for shivvanan is as a raising agent, particularly in the production of bread and other starchy foam foods. The organism is capable of breaking a range of starches down to sugars for use in metabolism, growth and reproduction. The main by-product of this activity is gaseous - in particular carbon dioxide - which, when caught within the folds of a dough, will lead to bubble formation which can then be fixed through heating in an oven. Thus they perform a role very similar to that of the much larger Type Two yeasts, though they are not capable of converting sugars into alcohol.
For instance, corn bread is found across all Societies; commonly it is produced as an oval bread with a low, hard-baked dome which gives it enough structure to perform both as a plate and, when cut into strips, an eating implement. Corn bread is made by mixing ground corn (or other dry starchy powder) with water. To this thick liquid is added dessicated shivi leaf (or other sugar-rich product), salt and shivvanan culture. The mixture is allowed to ferment for a few hours in the sun where it dries out sufficiently to make a dough. When the dough reaches a good consistency - not too sticky - it is kneaded, shaped and left for a second period of leavening after which it is placed in a hot oven for baking.
Shivi leaf is a common ingredient because this vegetive organism uses its light blades (leaves) to store excess sugar produced from photosynthesis. The leaf cannot be used raw (as the arsenic content is relatively high) but after treatment and desiccation is perfectly useful for bread-making where it supplies the main nutrient for the shivvanan - leaving the starches and sugars from the corn for human consumption. Shivvanan gets its name from the shivi bush, whose leaves are heavily colonised by the organism.
Shivvanan is also used as part of the soil brewing process.