Microorganisms are present everywhere. As per the National Research Council, without microbes, all higher plants and animals including humans would die, so is the significance of microbes in our lives. Microbes play a major role in maintaining a balance in the ecosystem. They keep us healthy, provides new sources of drugs, aids in food digestion, increases the fertility of soil, help clear up dangerous chemicals and protects crops.
Some microbes are harmful and cause diseases in plants, animals, and humans. But out of millions of types of microbes, only a small fraction of it makes up for disease-causing microbes. The other vast majority that inhabits in every environment does not cause much of a threat to human life but instead, are beneficial. Many microbes defend us by fighting against pathogens. Most of the cells in our body are microbes, which aid in carrying out digestion and provide sources of new drugs. As per research, human evolution has inseparably been linked with microbial activity around us. Microbes begin to live in the human body since our birth.
These early colonizers aided our immune system to educate it about the differentiation of the good and bad microbes. One of the most commonly found bacteria on human skin is the Staphylococcus aureus, which causes infections when it enters the body through minor cuts or wounds. Many other bacteria living in the intestine can help maintain the health of the gut and are called the gut bacteria. Most of the food we consume would be indigestible without the gut bacteria. The Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron is an opportunistic pathogen found in the human body that processes complex sugars. Microbes also help in processing dairy products such as yoghurt, bread, cheese etc.
Thousands of drugs that are available today are derived from chemicals primarily found in microbes. These naturally produced chemicals by microbes can be used by scientists to synthesize new medicines. Metagenomics, an emerging field of science, allows scientists to study about an entire section of microbes and their functions without separately culturing individual species, enabling access to more microbes. Apart from plants, half of the photosynthesis in the environment is carried out by photosynthetic microbes which make the air breathable and hence foster a livable climate by causing an increase in the amount of oxygen and reducing the carbon dioxide levels. Thus relieving some of the greenhouse gases which induce global warming.
Some microbes(Rhizobium) help fix nitrogen from the atmosphere which promotes the plant growth. Special adaptations in some microbes help them degrade, rendering harmless chemicals which can be used to clean up oil spills, gasoline leaks, nuclear wastes, sewage and other kinds of pollution. While microbes are extremely beneficial, it does not take away from the fact that a few microbes are harmful and cause deadly diseases such as HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, Pneumonia etc. For more information on microbes and related topics, please register at BYJU’S.