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Microbes: Engines of Life

by Kathy Chambers on Tue, December 01, 2015

Image credit: Lawrence Berkeley National LaboratoryImage credit: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Microbes – bacteria, fungi, protozoa, algae, and viruses – are the engines of life.  Microbiomes or microbe communities account for 60% of living matter and are the most diverse life form on earth.  The problem is that very little is understood about microbes and how they relate to our planet.  For a long time, microbes have had a bad reputation.  Bad microbes, better known as “germs,” have caused infectious diseases such as the bubonic plague, malaria, polio, HIV, and Ebola.  Advances in gene-sequencing technology have expanded our knowledge of microbiomes.  Once thought to be only harmful, scientists now know that we cannot live without microbes.   

Scientists have learned that microbes form the basis of many food chains, and without them we would have no food; they recycle gas in the atmosphere, breakdown wastes, and transport nutrients to flora and fauna.  Microbes are in the soil and water and in every organism and habitat.  Microbiomes are found inside every living thing, including the human body.  They inhabit the human body by the trillions.  Like residents living in different boroughs in a huge city, microbiomes live on our skin, in our mouth, up our nose, in our digestive system, in every nook and crevice.  They help us absorb nutrients and contribute genes responsible for disease prevention, human identification, and survival.  We have only begun to learn about the microbe’s functionality and potential.      

It is believed that microbes could hold the answer to producing more food and energy while reducing negative impacts on climate, environmental quality, and health.  Thankfully, microbiome research is gaining momentum.  Strategic investments by the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science have produced transformative technologies, from genomics to multi-scale environmental and biological imaging and high-performance computation, which have already increased our understanding of microbial potential.  Dr. William Watson’s latest white paper “In the OSTI Collections: Microbes for Production and Cleanup” describes how microbes are playing significant roles in DOE’s environmental cleanup and fuel production research.  He references many of the DOE microbial research reports freely available to the public in DOE’s SciTech Connect and DOepatents databases.  

Page last updated on 2017-03-16 05:54

About the Author

Kathy Chambers's picture
Kathy Chambers
Technical Writer, Information International Associates, Inc.