Some people think it would be great if scientists could wipe out all the microbial bugs! Should we do it, and why or why not?
We get a lot of requests to track down the nasty bugs that are making people sick. It's true that some microbes cause health problems such as strep throat, chi... Read More
Ever been outside on a day so hot, you said to your friends, "I feel like I’m melting"? Well, of course you were exaggerating. But there are microbes called thermophiles <ther-mo-files>, or heat-lovers, that live in temperatures so hot, the microbes could actually melt if they hadn’t devel... Read More
Developing tricks and tools to keep their enzymes in order is one way thermophiles survive. They also use techniques to keep their DNA from falling apart under intense heat. Like proteins, the parts of the long, spiral ladder-shaped DNA molecule start to unravel and break apart under high hea... Read More
When you go to the dentist to have your jaws X-rayed, you’ll notice that you have to wear a heavy lead apron—and the person who takes the X-ray leaves the room to do it. X-rays are safe, but these precautions give you some sense of how careful we have to be around even relatively harmless lev... Read More
As the “humongous fungus” shows, fungi can grow to enormous mass if unimpeded.
Hyphae grow by adding cells at the tip. Hyphae are very tiny, measuring only a few microns in diameter in some cases. But they can also be incredibly strong, punching through not only the soft membranes of animal ... Read More
Although many archaea have tough outer cell walls, these walls contain different kinds of amino acids and sugars than those found in bacteria. Archaeal cell membranes also are chemically distinct from bacterial membranes with differing lipid structures and chemical links. This means that drug... Read More
Some bacteria have hair- or whip-like appendages called flagella used to ‘swim’ around. Others produce thick coats of slime and ‘glide’ about. Some stick out thin, rigid spikes called fimbriae to help hold them to surfaces. Some contain little particles of minerals t... Read More
Bacteria can be found virtually everywhere. They are in the air, the soil, and water, and in and on plants and animals, including us. A single teaspoon of topsoil contains about a billion bacterial cells (and about 120,000 fungal cells and some 25,000 algal cells). The human mouth is home to ... Read More
Archaeans are single-celled creatures that join bacteria to make up a category of life called the Prokaryotes (pro-carry-oats). Prokaryotes' genetic material, or DNA, is not enclosed in a central cellular compartment called the nucleus. Bacteria and archaea are the only prokaryotes. ... Read More
Fungi straddle the realms of microbiology and macrobiology.
There are some nasty fungi that cause diseases in plants, animals and people. One of the most famous is Phytophthora infestans (fie-tof-thor-uh in-fes-tuhns), which caused the Great Potato Famine in Ireland in the mid-1800s that resulted in a million deaths. See the Read More
Some fungi are quite useful to us. We've tapped several kinds to make antibiotics to fight bacterial infections. These antibiotics are based on natural compounds the fungi produce to compete against bacteria for nutrients and space. We use Saccharomyces cerevisiae (sack-air-oh-my... Read More
Archaeans are among the earliest forms of life that appeared on Earth billions of years ago. It’s now generally believed that the archaea and bacteria developed separately from a common ancestor nearly 4 billion years ago. Millions of years later, the ancestors of today's eukaryotes split off... Read More
Some archaea look like little rods or tiny balls, and some even get around like bacteria, using long hair- or whip-like appendages called flagella that stick out of their cell walls and act like a microscopic outboard motor to get them where they are going.... Read More