Most people probably associate microbes with disease, but the truth is that without them, complex life on Earth would not exist.
With microbe fossils dating back some three billion years, they are also the oldest forms of life on Earth.
And in and on our own bodies we quite carry around trillions of microbes. In fact, there are roughly as many microbes in and on our bodies as there are human cells.
“We are an amalgam. We are a community,” said Ted Anton, author of the new book “Planet of Microbes: The Perils and Potential of Earth’s Essential Life Forms.”
They do everything from helping us digest our food to improving our mood. And according to Anton they may also be instrumental in helping deal with many of our most pressing problems, including environmental pollution and climate change.
“They cleaned up the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. They clean up everything that dies since the beginning of life,” Anton said. “They created the oil. They can sequester radiation contamination in water and mines. They clean up plastic. Everything that degrades they do (the clean-up).”
It’s also possible they will be the first forms of extraterrestrial life we discover, says Anton.
“There are moons of Jupiter and Saturn that contain the elements – there are warm liquid oceans spewing into space and there are gigantic oceans where certainly microbes could live and those are places NASA is racing to explore,” he said.
Anton joins Phil Ponce to discuss our microbe-dominated world.
Nov. 14: A new book from a Northwestern medical school professor delves into the history of the common—yet still mysterious—world of anesthesia.
Oct. 19: “Our research may be tapping into one of nature’s original kill switches, and we hope the impact will affect many cancers,” said Northwestern scientist Marcus Peter. “Our findings could be disruptive.”