Human Perspective

Microoganisms have had, and continue to have, an enormous impact on the lives of all living things. On the one hand, microorganisms and other infectious agents, the viruses, have killed far more people than have ever been killed in war. On the other hand, without microorganisms, life as we know it could not exist on the earth. They are responsible for continually providing the oxygen and nitrogen that all living beings require.

Which organisms are included in the microbial world? Microbiology encompasses the study of many diverse organisms, which include bacteria, viruses, protozoa, algae, fungi, and some multicellular parasites. The overwhelming majority of these organisms are too small to be seen without the aid of a microscope. Indeed, the main feature of most members of the microbial world is their small size.

Microorganisms are also very diverse in all their aspects: appearance, metabolism, physiology, and genetics. They are far more diverse than plants and animals. Even though they seem to be relatively simple, some members of the microbial world can be extraordinarily complex.

Let us now consider some of the roles that microorganisms play in our lives, both beneficial and harmful. In large part this section and the remainder of this chapter will introduce you to what will be covered in more detail in later chapters.

4 Chapter 1 Humans and the Microbial World

Table 1.1 Some Major Milestones in Microbiology

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