• Question: What is a microorganism?

    Asked by niamh to Karen A, Jordan K, Amy T on 8 Feb 2024.
    • Photo: Jordan Kirby

      Jordan Kirby answered on 8 Feb 2024:

      Hi Niamh,

      Great question! It’s a very straightforward answer, a microorganism is typically a form of life that exists on the microscale and is too small for the human eye to see! It’s a very very interesting world when you get down to that scale of life and I think you would (as I was when I first read about it!) Quite surprised at the variety and differences of things that live in the hidden microscopic world!

      A fun fact, the father of microbiology (the science that studies microorganisms) Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek was the first person to observe the microscopic world originally named these strange little single cell life “Animacules” which is Latin for Little Animals! It’s such a shame that the name didn’t stick as I love the idea of being called an Animaculeist! Such a great word!

      If you want me to give you any more details about the main types of microorganisms (such as bacteria, fungi, plankton or the bizzare archea) please let me know 🙂

      Always happy to chat about our little friends we share this planet with!

    • Photo: Karen Adler

      Karen Adler answered on 11 Feb 2024:

      That’s a huge question! There are all sorts of microorganisms – some are animals, some are plants, some are fungi, some are bacteria, and some are viruses! Most of them are very very tiny and require a microscope, or even a special high-powered electron microscope, just to see.

      Like us, what they want is just to survive and reproduce. Some just live a passive quiet life in the soil or water or air, doing just that. Some have friendly interactions, like the lichen you can find on trees and rocks – lichen isn’t an organism on it’s own, it is fungi and algae (microscopic single celled plant) living together. Sometimes, the only place these microorganisms can survive is inside a different organism: this can be bad, where the microorganisms grow at the expense of the other organism – like diseases; or, it can be good, where the microogranisms do something that benefits the other organism, and in turn gain the benefit of growing in a warm, food-rich place – like the bacteria in our gut (without them, we’d barely be able to digest our food, and we’d be very sick and weak).

      Hopefully that helps – great question!