Types of Microbes

Microbes can be divided into six main types: Archaea, Bacteria, Fungi, Protista, Viruses, and Microbial Mergers.



These bacteria look-alikes are living fossils that are providing clues to the earliest forms of life on Earth.

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Often dismissed as “germs” that cause illness, bacteria help us do an amazing array of useful things, like make vitamins, break down some types of garbage, and maintain our atmosphere.

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From a single-celled yeast to a 3.5-mile-wide mushroom, fungi do everything from helping to bake bread to recycling to decomposing waste.



Plant-like algae produce much of the oxygen we breathe; animal-like protozoa (including the famous amoeba) help maintain the balance of microbial life.



Unable to do much of anything on their own, viruses go into host cells to reproduce, often wreaking havoc and causing disease. Their ability to move genetic information from one cell to another makes them useful for cloning DNA and could provide a way to deliver gene therapy.

niebla lichen



Microbial Mergers

Mergers and collaborations on a minute scale paved the way for higher life forms. Today, symbionts (the scientific terms for these mergers) help fertilize plants, construct coral reefs, and help us digest food.

Lichen image courtesy of Sylvia and Stephen Sharnoff, the Center for Latin American Studies, University of California, Berkeley. Others, courtesy of



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