Bacteria Safari: The forest on your fingernail

Bacteria Safari: The forest on your fingernail

They are everywhere. On our skin and in
our bodies, on the food we eat and in every environment on the planet. They
shape our lives and dramatically influence our health.
They are bacteria, but few of us give them a second thought.
New scientific research is revealing how these tiny organisms, invisible to the
naked eye, can help us to better understand ourselves and the world we
inhabit. Their stunning diversity and complex interactions form intricate
microscopic worlds. Imagine a savanna in a petri dish, or a rain forest on your
thumb nail, for that’s what they create nothing less than scaled-down Ecologies.
And using new technology a team from Oxford University is studying these
interconnected systems of life in unprecedented depth, shedding new light
on how they work. For scientists, bacteria offer a distinct advantage: they
reproduce quickly and take up very little space. This means we can study
hundreds of ecosystems in parallel, alter populations genetically, or place
different species together without ethical concerns to test ecological
theories that would take much longer using plants and animals. Just like
bigger creatures bacteria are also likely to have keystone species on which
entire ecosystems depend. Understanding these species can be critical to
protecting their wider community so by studying bacterial ecologies we may
learn how to better defend plants and animals against threats such as habitat
degradation, species loss, the impact of invasive species, and even climate change.
It just goes to show the size does matter. Indeed, some of the tiniest
organisms could prove to be crucial. For while we might not notice them much in
our everyday lives, bacteria may hold fascinating secrets about ecology and
the survival of all life on Earth. For more fascinating science visit our
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