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Microbes ‘R’ Us

This week, the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing, there’s much talk of exploring other worlds. Which is exciting and grand; such is the stuff that dreams are made on. Yet we don’t need to go abroad to find amazing new life forms. We just need to look at the palms of our hands, the tips of our fingers, the contents of our guts.

The typical human is home to a vast array of microbes. If you were to count them, you’d find that microbial cells outnumber your own by a factor of 10. On a cell-by-cell basis, then, you are only 10 percent human. For the rest, you are microbial. (Why don’t you see this when you look in the mirror? Because most of the microbes are bacteria, and bacterial cells are generally much smaller than animal cells. They may make up 90 percent of the cells, but they’re not 90 percent of your bulk.)
 
 

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