Sunday, 5 March 2017

Microbes Around Us

Note: This post is part of the Science Journalism Workshop I am currently attending, at the Academy of Sciences Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur.

Microbes Around Us

By: Mohd Firdaus Abdul-Wahab

Dr. Abdul-Wahab is a Senior Lecturer at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM), Skudai, Johor. He obtained his BSc in Chemistry and MSc in Biosciences from UTM, and PhD in Chemical Biology from Imperial College London. Currently, his research involves the use of microbes for degradation of pollutants, and for generation of environmentally-friendly fuels.

What are microbes?

Microbes, also known as “microorganisms” or “microscopic organisms,” are living things too small to be seen with the naked eye. Microbes can be divided into “bacteria”, “archaea”, “fungi”, “protists”, “viruses”, and “microscopic animals and plants”. “Bacteria” are single-celled organisms that have no nucleus (the part where DNA is stored), and their cell wall are made of sugar molecules called peptidoglycan. They are the early colonisers on earth, since 3.5 billion years ago. The most famous bacteria known to us is probably E. coli.
“Archaea” are similar to bacteria, except that their cells are covered with a type of lipid (or fat molecules), instead of peptidoglycan. They like to live in very extreme environments, like the hot springs and hydrothermal vents in deep oceans. “Fungi” have cells larger than bacteria and archaea, and they have nucleus. Mushrooms that we love to eat also fall under this group. “Protists” are either single celled or multi-cellular, and the most famous protists are probably amoeba and paramecium. “Viruses” as known to us are disease-causing microbes. Viruses can infect all types of organisms, and this infection is needed as a mean for them to reproduce. Some scientists do not classify them as living, because they cannot reproduce themselves. Nonetheless, viruses are an important part of the ecosystems. Mites and and algae are examples of “microscopis animals and plants”.

Why are microbes important for us?

            The human body hosts a large number of microbes to keep us healthy. For example, microbes in the gut help in digestion and nutrient absorption, while skin microbes prevents the attack of dangerous pathogens. So, no matter how scary some microbes are, they are very important for us.

Useful links to learn more about our micro-buddy:

The Human Microbiome, University of Utah.

Giant Microbes (for amazing soft toy-microbe gift ideas, good for learning too!)

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