Since their discovery, microorganisms have been found in almost every environment on earth. Microorganisms are capable of causing disease but are also used to make bread, cheese, yoghurt, wine and beer.
The invention of the microscope allowed humans to look into the tiny world of microorganisms. Since their discovery, microorganisms have been found to inhabit almost every environment on earth including those thought previously to be uninhabitable, such as hot springs and acidic pools. We can now explain diseases as infections from microorganisms rather than spontaneously generated from ‘miasma’. Humans had long used microorganisms to make bread, cheese, yoghurt wine and beer, but without knowing how these processes worked. We are also discovering that microorganisms are vital to the health of the planet by being an important part of nutrient cycling.
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A microorganism is a living organism that is too small to be seen without the aid of a microscope. Microorganisms are incredibly diverse and include bacteria and fungi as well as archae, protists, plankton and amoeba. Viruses are not considered to be living organisms but are often considered to be microorganisms because of their extremely small size.
The Waksman Foundation for Microbiology has developed a variety of teaching resources.