Report outlines vision and recommendations for microbiology in the 21st Century

Washington, D.C. July 21, 2004 -- Microbes generate more than half the oxygen we breathe, excavate huge underground caverns, contribute mightily to the changes in our climate, and make up the largest mass of living things on earth. It is not an exaggeration to state that they are everywhere and often in very large numbers. Life originated with microbes and all of life is derived from microbes. Some microbes cause disease; others are essential in agriculture for food production or in industry for carrying out chemical transformation. Life without higher organisms is possible, but life without microbes is not. It's no wonder that ours has been called the planet of the microbes! Consequently, "the future of biological and planetary sciences lies in understanding the role microbes play in shaping this earth and its inhabitants," so says Moselio Schaechter of San Diego State University, one of the authors of a report of the American Academy of Microbiology, Microbiology in the 21st Century: Where Are We and Where Are We Going?

These striking realities of life of earth are not widely appreciated as yet. The public thinks of microbes as undesirable vermin "germs" that should best be eradicated. At present, concerns for bioterrorism alert the public to the hazards of agents of disease, but the public is not generally aware of the global importance of microbes. With notable exceptions, neither are many scientists in other fields. Commonly, the study of microbes is either neglected or is relegated to a special academic niche.

The report recommends that microbial sciences should be firmly integrated into pre-college and undergraduate educational curricula. "Since microbes are of fundamental importance to life, their activities must be taken into account in biological research and all biologists must have a solid background in microbial sciences." The report puts forth that microbiology should not be considered to be just another organismal biolo

Contact: Jim Sliwa
American Society for Microbiology

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