Microbes typically refer to single-celled organisms which represent a broad range of biological groups. However, most of these groups also have multicellular species, forms of life stages. They are so small that there are more of them on your hand than there are people on the entire planet. Microbes are in the air, on the ground and on the food we eat.
Our microbe exhibit, located on the sixth floor of the museum, features a living fungal art wall, touchable 3D models, specimens from our collections, and information about microbes and the human body.
Explore microbial life at home with online items from one of our mobile museum programs: Microbes on the Move.
The Microbial World
Throughout life and even after death, your body is home to a network of ecosystems made up of billions of microbes. Some of the chemicals microbes produce are dangerous, but many are beneficial and affect how your body functions and absorbs nutrients. These organized communities evolve with us as we grow.
For example, did you know that your gut is packed with microbes that help break down food? There are 10 times more bacteria in the average human’s digestive system than there are cells in the entire body (the average adult human is comprised of about 50 to 70 trillion cells). Half of human fecal matter is microbial biomass.
Microbes thrive in an amazing diversity of habitats and can tolerate extreme temperatures, radiation, pressure, salinity, acidity and darkness. These include geothermal environments, such as Yellowstone Park, and very cold regions, such as Antarctica.
- Microbes generate at least half the oxygen we breathe
- Microbes comprise about 60% of the earth’s biomass
- Microbes outnumber all other species and make up most living matter
- About 99.5% of the estimated 2-3 billion microbial species have not yet been identified