Academic journal article The American Biology Teacher

It's a Small World after All ... a Microcosm ... Tell the Kids!

Academic journal article The American Biology Teacher

It's a Small World after All ... a Microcosm ... Tell the Kids!

Article excerpt


They are on us, in us, and left by us in an identifiable trail on whatever we touch and wherever we go (Forensics). They cause our childhood tonsillitis, strep throat, and ear and urinary tract infections, bloom in our cuts and open wounds, and glide over our teeth producing acids that cause caries (Medicine and Dentistry).

Yet we scoop them out of our yogurt cups and pop them as probiotic supplements (Biopharmacology). We even serve up many of their products on crackers or with cucumbers and dill, and slowly sip any one of a number of delectable fermented beverages with colleagues while discussing ways to capitalize on their "yuck" factor in the lab (Food Science and Zymology).

They break down organic matter in our compost heaps and are responsible for providing the N in CHON for protein synthesis (Biochemistry). They transform that dirty four-letter word "dirt" into the respectable four-letter word "soil" (Ecology). They also potentially harbor the ability to eat oil in local waters and in places on other continents where spills have not gotten the attention they get when they happen in the USA (Bioremediation). They are even spread in our gardens to control certain insect pests (Entomology and Agriculture), and any extraordinary travel to the upper limits of our atmosphere or the lower limits of oceanic thermal vents will find them there (Extremophile Biology).

Where might we be if our parents had not been able to reach, for example, for Selman Waksman's streptomycin, discovered in 1942 (Science as Process)? I point out with pride that this particular discovery happened at a lab on the New Jersey campus of Rutgers University within walking distance of my home. Undoubtedly I could have been felled by them on any number of occasions, possibly losing my life to complications from their exponential growth in my throat or ears, or on skinned knees or heels, among other locations (Bacteriology and Antibiotics).

In fact, I have to admit that I probably would have been dead a long time ago if not for the great good luck of being more resistant than they were virulent (Epidemiology). Once upon a time, as a kid in the 1950s, I thought that all infectious disease would soon be eradicated from the planet ... but at that time I didn't know the tenets of the Red Queen (Evolutionary Biology).

Recently, word came my way of a Web site where, surprisingly, bacteria have become the "paint" of art and the notes of music! …

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