A Microbial Society

7 November 2013 by Annelie Wendeberg, posted in Microbial Awesomeness

Earth is a planet of microbes. To us, these tiny organisms might seem insignificant because of their size, or even scary considering that some of them cause disease. That microbes exist since more than 3 billion years and form the basis of all life on Earth is a fact only few people are aware of.

This is what syphilis could do, before penicillin was discovered (Source: Lindsey Fitzharris)

When Koch and Pasteur established the germ theory in the 19th century, people were disbelieving and even outraged. How can something so small cause such suffering? Disease was responsible for a short lifespan of the average European: tuberculosis, typhus, gonorrhoea, syphilis, and cholera, to name but a few. Our fear of microbes probably originates from our history - we discovered the deadly ones first.

If I'd go in a shopping mall and scream BACTERIA at the top of my lungs, most people would feel an urge to cover their mouths and wash their hands. Yet, the vast majority of microbes is not only harmless, but essential to our health and the health of all ecosystems on our planet.

Microbes from a petroleum contaninated aquifer are happily degrating toxic waste

Microbes invented photosynthesis - without it our atmosphere would not contain enough oxygen for us to breathe. Microbes consume methane - a potent greenhouse gas, and thus control our climate. Every adult carries about 2kg (4 pounds) of microbes in the gut, helping us digest our food. Microbes invented chemical warfare and we make use of their weapons to fight disease: antibiotics. Microbes cooperate, cheat, and communicate. The next posts on this blog will explore the world of microbes. Stay tuned for pure mirobial awesomeness...

Watch the film Unseen Life on Earth at Micro World

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