Microorganisms are essential to all life on earth and affect the life of humans in both beneficial and harmful ways. Microorganisms have been used for food production for thousands of years using essentially the same techniques that are used today. They are now being used to degrade toxic pollutants and produce a variety of compounds more cheaply than can be done in the chemical laboratory. The genetic engineering of microorganisms has expanded these capabilities greatly. Enormous progress has been made in preventing and curing most infectious diseases, but new ones continue to emerge around the world. Microbes represent wonderful model organisms, and many principles of biochemistry and genetics have been discovered from studying bacteria.

■ Discuss activities that microbes carry out that are essential to life on earth.

■ Discuss several reasons for the reemergence of old diseases.

■ Why would it seem logical, even inevitable, that at least some bacteria would attack the human body and be disease-causing agents?

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