microbes

"Microbes have always ruled the planet but for the first time in history, they are fashionable," writes Ed Yong in his new book, I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life, on sale Tuesday.

If you're like most people in North America, you probably spend most of your time indoors. Leave home in the morning, drive to work, stay in your cube all day, head home again. Ninety percent of our lives are spent inside a built environment of some kind – ones that we share with millions of invisible microbes.

Scientists increasingly recognize that rooms and buildings have their own microbiomes, and that those microbial roommates may affect the health of human inhabitants. Those microbes vary depending on what city you're in, according to a study published Tuesday.

Microbes are known to be able to thrive in extreme environments, from inside fiery volcanoes to down on the bottom of the ocean. Now scientists have found a surprising number of them living in storm clouds tens of thousands of feet above the Earth. And those airborne microbes could play a role in global climate.

Vaughn Iverson / UW

Scientists have deciphered some of the secrets of one of Puget Sound’s natural recyclers. It’s a microbe – which likes to eat sulfur and nitrogen – and might be found near any of our beaches.  

The technique they devised could open the door to a better understanding of microbial life that abounds everywhere – in the oceans, in soils, and in the human body.