Microbiology for Everyone
Explore the unseen world of microorganisms.
Most people know that "germs" cause many illnesses and diseases that sicken humans, other animals, and plants. The world is an unseen world of "germs" in which we "higher" organisms live, and most people worry about getting sick from these "germs" that can spread from person to person ("communicable"), even though they do not know common-sense ways to avoid it. The largest living organism on earth is not the 200-ton blue whale (as most people think), but a fungus (mushroom) of the genus Armillaria that lives in the soil of Oregon’s mountains. This single organism occupies about 4 square miles and is estimated to be at least 2500 years old.
Ignorance about germs is not a good excuse for careless behavior or a lifestyle that results in human illnesses. One major problem in our society is our love of pets, virtually all of which carry potentially disease-causing human infectionous germs. Washing hands and general cleanliness in human-pet interactions is always a good idea.
- Dogs and cats commonly have "germs" in their intestines that can cause serious human disease. The animals clean themselves by licking their "private" parts, and the germs fill their mouths. When their loving owners are showered with wet kisses by their pet, it is a perfect way to transmit animal germs.
- All animals have their own types of germs in their bodies and can potentially transmit them to their human owners. One other notorious example is that of "pet" turtles. In the mid-1900s, every dime store had pans full of baby painted turtles for sale (25–30 cents each), and children bought them for pets. That is no longer the case, as it was discovered that virtually all turtles carry in their guts a dangerous germ of the genus Salmonella, which causes serious human disease (even death). This is still true for all turtles. Buying a pet from a pet store or a breeder does not mean that the new owner should not be aware of the potential problems and interact with them with care.
- Apart from the precious examples herein described, people should have some idea of what is in their food and water and what is safe or not. Many homes have their own water well that provides their drinking and bathing water, and they assume it is free of dangerous "germs". That may or may not be true, but a simple test can provide the answer ("R-CARD® E. coli"). Even "drinking water" bought from the grocery store limits only the presence of E. coli (EPA rule for drinking water). What many people do not know is that the presence of E. coli only indicates the presence of fecal contamination, not that E. coli is a dangerous, disease-causing ‘germ’. Most E. coli species are harmless and even beneficial in the gut, but if they are present in your food or water, that serves to indicate that dangerous gut-inhabiting "germs" may be present (like salmomella or shigella). You may be surprised to know that many bottled "drinking" waters contain many other bacteria (other than E. coli) and other microbes.
The preceding information and examples of the dangers of "germs" ("pathogens") must now be followed by the fact that, by far, most microorganisms ("germs") are not nasty, dangerous disease-causing entities. Without this large majority of good microbes ("salugens"), our world would not survive. Humans, other animals, and plants all depend on the actions and activities of microorganisms. Virtually all of our food involves some sort of microbial action in its production, and many foods incorporate microbes. One outstanding example is cheese, and some varieties contain hundreds of different microbe species. (When you eat Swiss cheese, one slice may contain billions of bacteria, yeasts, and molds.) Suffice it to say that most microorganisms are beneficial and necessary for a healthy world.
It is important for everyone to have a basic knowledge of microbiology. The curriculum of all schools should include a safe, well designed and informative experience that provides "hands-on" knowledge of microorganisms that results in dispelling the misplaced fear of microbes and replacing it with an appreciation for them while instilling respect and awareness of them in our lives.
Use of the safe and easy-to-use R-CARD® can show you what is clean or contaminated! For example, which of the following is most loaded with "germs"?
- your hands
- your keyboard (phone or computer).
- the toilet water
- Your pet’s nose
- your kitchen sink
- your swimming pool or pond
Ideal for grades 1–12 in public school or home school settings.
Everything needed for instructor and students in one package, for sure, with exciting results. Full instructions are included. direct phone number for answers to any questions.
No experience is needed by the instructor or students for a totally safe hands-on experience.
by Jonathan N. Roth, Ph.D.