Centre for Geobiology

Why is the study of microbiology interesting?

Microorganisms are mostly invisible to the naked eye. There are also enormous numbers of them - more than any other life form on earth - and most of them are unknown as yet. In order to study them we must use a microscope. One technique for making them more visible under the microscope is to insert a fluorescent gene into their genome (see the image magnified 1000x).

Researchers also try to culture them in the laboratory so that there will be enough in one place to be visible. They do this by taking a sample and placing it in a culture dish. The bacteria then multiply, some as often as every 20 minutes, and after a couple of hours or days they form a colony that is visible to the naked eye.

The study of hydrothermal microorganisms is particularly interesting because they are adapted to living conditions that resemble those scientists believe were present when live began on earth four billion years ago. Scientists wonder if life began in the deep sea because there would have been too much solar radiation on the land before the ozone layer was created in the atmosphere. Studies of these hydrothermal vent organisms may provide the answers to the questions about the origins of life on earth.

The discovery of these microorganisms adapted to these extreme environments also has consequences concerning the possibility of finding life on other planets.

Many useful medical and industrial products come from nature. Hydrothermal vent organisms are particularly interesting to researchers because of their adaptations to high temperatures and pressures, and their ability to convert toxic compounds into less toxic ones.