Wednesday, May 21, 2014


A while back, I read an article in the National Geographic magazine that has become one of my favorites ever. It's about the invisible world of microbes. To think that there is a whole other "universe of life" all around us (and literally - in and on us) that we can't see with our natural eyes! Nature to me is the most fascinating thing. So much to learn. Us humans really know so very little even though we sometimes like to think we know much. But we know very little about the microscopic world of microbes. 350 years ago, people didn't even know they exist! Viruses weren't discovered until about a century ago! There is so much to learn about microbes but what we do know is mind boggling.

Here are some snippets from the article:

"We've just begun to understand how vital they are to our health and to the health of the Earth. We pride ourselves on having explored nearly every corner of this planet, but behind our world is a shadow world of microbes - and they are often calling the shots."

"There is evidence that despite high levels of ultraviolet radiation that would kill most bacteria, some metabolize and perhaps even reproduce inside clouds. In fact they may play a part in the formation of snowflakes that require a nucleator, or small particle, to crystallize around. In 2008 Brent Christner of Louisiana State University... showed that microorganisms were the most efficient ice nucleators present in snow. That's right - snow is literally alive." 

"...the microbes in your body outnumber your own cells by ten to one and can weigh as much as or more than your brain - about three pounds in an average adult. Each of us is thus both an organism and a densely populated ecosystem, with habitats harboring species as different  from one another as the animals in a jungle and a desert."

"For the most part, the microbes... are either beneficial ones or unobtrusive freeloaders. They help us digest our food and absorb nutrients. They manufacture vital vitamins and anti-inflammatory proteins that our own genes cannot produce, and they train our immune systems to combat infectious intruders..."

Did you know that babies born via Cesarean section, don't get the Lactobacillales bacteria that help the babies digest milk? When a woman is pregnant, these Lactobacillales increase in the vaginal canal and when the baby is born, she or he gets that bacteria from his or her mom. 

This fascinating article ends by saying:

"This perspective on our relationship with microbes - as fellow travelers to be cared for and managed to our benefit - is a far cry from my day-job view of them as killers to be hunted down and eradicated before they can spread (the writer works looking for signs of microbes in people and animals that might cause the next deadly pandemics). Both views are valid, of course. We should never let our guard down against the threat of infectious pathogens. But as we continue to explore the microbial world, our fear of the invisible beings around us, and in us, should be tempered with respect for what we are learning about them - and a rush of excitement for what remains to be discovered."

Read the full National Geographic article by clicking here.

There are really interesting TED talks on the topic as well, including this one:

[images via Google image search]

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