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Professor doesn’t overlook the small things in biology

Frog-killing fungi, the methods bacteria use to evade antibiotics, and the hidden microbes deep inside an Antarctic lake: These are just a few of the topics covered in “Small Things Considered,” a microbiology blog run by Moselio Schaechter. Schaechter is former president of the American Society for Microbiology and is a distinguished professor emeritus at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston.

Q. The word “microbe” makes many nonscientists reach for the hand sanitizer. What are some of the ways in which microbes are beneficial to humans and other species?

A. The overwhelming number of microbes on this planet are beneficial, and life would not be possible without them. So, far from being yucky germs, the great majority are our friends, our benefactors, our protectors. The proportion of those that cause disease to humans is infinitesimally small, although it’s true that many of the diseases they cause can be quite serious. But keep in mind that about half of everything that goes on biologically on Earth is due to microbes. They make up about half the total biomass, carry out about half of photosynthesis, and most of the needed recycling of dead plant and animal matter.

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