Microbes Rule the World

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Watch a little about Microbes from the Fall 2010 USA Science and Engineering Festival.

The average science student knows that microbiology is the study of bacteria and other microorganisms, especially those that cause disease and other threats to health.

But what the public often does not realize is that the work of the microbiologist is growing ever more important today as such microorganisms are linked at an alarming rate to outbreaks of new infectious disease and food poisoning caused by bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli, in addition to the growing difficulty in treating infections due to antibiotic resistance. Microbiologists and their scientific tools are front-line defenders in the expanding battle against germs.

We are also learning that microbes play many important roles in health of humans, animals, and the environment.

"It is clear that microbes rule the world" explains Stanley Maloy, previous president of the American Society for Microbiology.

The study of microbes not only give scientists insight into disease and how the variety of organisms found in a particular environment influences all other life, but can also be particularly useful in answering big-picture questions about evolution.

To give you an idea of the scope of the microbiologists' challenge, of the thousands of microbes known to science, 99 percent have yet to be grown in a laboratory. "Until recently, unless they could be grown in the laboratory, there was little hope that their physiology or behavior would ever be understood," Stanley explains.

Learn more about Nifty Fifty Stanley Maloy here.

What are some roles that microbes have in your life that are helpful?


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You might say the age of bacteria did not end with the Proterozoic. If you include extremophile organisms deep inside ocean sedimants, soil bacteria and commensal bacteria inside metazoans, they probably still dominate the total mass of the biosphere.
We metazoans are just temporarily tolerated by the majority, for as long as innate immunity and other safeguards keep bacteria at bay. :)

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 18 Mar 2011 #permalink

I am a microbiologist, without them I would be unemployed ;)

But their most important use for me is for their amazing ability to ferment sugar in tasty alcohols (and a lot of other less concentrated substances) thus providing me with the joy that are wine, whisky, rum, vodka and marginally beer (your mileage may vary for the relative importnace of those beverages).

We've been living in the age of bacteria for the last 4.5 billion years, as I think Stephen Gould said.

That said, I'm a little annoyed that all the work fungi do in the world gets blown off. Americans are mycophobic, and it sure shows.

By heteromeles (not verified) on 19 Mar 2011 #permalink

I am an engineer, and am doing research on bacteria, in particular the commensal bacteria that live on the skin and set the basal NO/NOx level by turning the ammonia in sweat into NO and nitrite.

This basal NO/NOx level is critically important in all control pathways that use NO/NOx as a signaling molecule.

Thank you so much for sharing these amazing videos with us! I am a Microbiology instructor and I found them so good and interesting that I shared them with my students in class. Hopefully they'll learn and understand the importance of microbes and perhaps some of them will be inspired to become a microbiolgist! Thanks again!