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Discoveries in Biology

BIO 100
Microcosmos: The Power of Microorganisms
Microbes Now
Lecture Outline
• What are microorganisms?
• Bacteria, viruses, parasites, yeast, etc.
• Earliest forms of life
• The endosymbiotic theory
• Beneficial vs. dangerous microbes
• Economic importance of microbes
• Gut bacteria: roles in obesity, diabetes, nutrition
• Antibiotics: history and current status
Microorganisms
• Also known as microbes
• Microscopic (very small) organisms
• Mostly single-celled, but can be multicellular
as well
• All around us
Microorganisms
Microorganisms
• http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-
news/10445788/Oldest-signs-of-life-on-Earth-
found.html

• Microbes are believed to have been the earliest forms


of life on Earth
• Based on the fossil record, the Earth was inhabited by
microbes for most of its life history
• The first known single-celled organisms appeared
about 3.5 billion years ago
• Multicellular organisms did not appear until about 600
million years ago
The Endosymbiotic Theory
• Symbiosis is mutually beneficial coexistence
• Mitochondria and chloroplast are thought to
have originally been separate microbes
Types of Microbes
• Bacteria
• Archaea
• Fungi
• Protozoa
• Viruses (disputed)
• Microscopic plants and animals
Microbes Around Us
• Clearly, not all microbes are harmful
• Yeast is a unicellular fungus; yeast
fermentation is used to make bread and beer
• Decomposing bacteria in the soil allow
nutrients to be recycled
• Genetically modified bacteria are used to
produce proteins
• Bacteria and protozoa are used in sewage
processing
Microbes Around Us
• All sorts of microbes are still very deadly
• Harmful microbes are called germs or
pathogens
• They can harm and/or kill us by causing
dehydration, excessive inflammation,
bleeding, heart failure, systemic organ failure,
pneumonia, nerve damage, destruction of red
blood cells etc.
Economic Importance of Microbes
• Microbes provide an efficient means of
production of proteins
• Their use for purification or decomposition is
fairly easy to control, and saves costs
• Diseases like HIV and influenza take a huge
economic toll because of the large number of
people they affect
Cholera
• Cholera is a disease caused by the bacterium
Vibrio cholerae
• The bacteria attach to the small intestine, and
release a toxin that makes cells lose water and
various salts, resulting in diarrhoea
• This mechanism helps the bacteria spread
Smallpox
• Smallpox was a disease caused by virus called
Variola
• Was a global drain on cost and human lives, so
efforts were undertaken to completely
eradicate the virus from the world
• Smallpox only infects humans, so this was
possible (if there are animal or environmental
reservoirs, it is harder to completely eliminate
a microbe)
Smallpox
• First efforts toward eradication
were in 1950, and in May of 1980,
WHO announced that smallpox had
been eradicated completely
• Eradication was through the use of
a vaccine
• Vaccine produced a weaker form of
the disease, and provided future
protection
Influenza
• Influenza viruses cause respiratory disease in
humans
• They have a segmented genome
Influenza
• Results in viral sex (exchange of segments
between strains)
• Influenza is also very susceptible to mutations
• Vaccines have to be developed every year
based on circulating strains
• Also occurs in pigs and birds, and can pass on
to us from them
Gut Microflora
• Bacteria present in our guts affect.. everything
• The bacteria are in a symbiotic relationship
with us, and play a vital role in the
development of our immune systems
• Fecal transplantation is now used to treat
Clostridium difficile colitis (inflammation of
colon)
Antibiotics
• Antibiotics only affect bacteria
• When discovered, people thought they would
solve everything
• But bacteria can mutate
• Antibiotic resistance now a major global
problem due to worldwide overuse
Antibiotic Resistance

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