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Life is way beyond what we see, feel or touch. There are things we can’t touch or see which are growing, breathing, moving, and even reproducing like we do. One of such things is microbes.

Microbes make up fifteen percent of the Earth’s biomass. They can be found in the water, soil, air, and human body, contributing to effective health or illness. The term “microbes” is used to describe several different life forms with distinctive sizes and characteristics.

However, what exactly are microbes, and can you see them? These and many more questions will be answered in this post. Just keep reading till the end.

What Are Microbes?

Again, what are microbes? Microbes are tiny single-celled organisms that pervade the atmosphere around us. They exist in varying classifications, and they were the first living creatures on Earth. Therefore they are super essential to life. Although most microbes are unicellular, this isn’t absolute and universal since some multicellular organisms are also microscopic.

They are essential to humans and the environment at large since they participate in Earth’s element cycles. Often, microbes seem a little bit more associated with dirt and disease, but they have also proven over and over to be beneficial. So, some of these benefits are:

  • Keep nature clean by breaking down dead plants and animals into organic matter.
  • Assist farmers in increasing agricultural yields and even protecting crops.
  • Improve livestock health, growth, and feed.
  • Increase wastewater treatment efficiency and optimize healthy water quality.
  • Assist in the production of enzymes
  • In human bodies, they help with digestion and protect our systems from an invasion of harmful microbes.

As the world gradually edges towards greener, cleaner energy, microbes possess the power to help solve pressing global challenges and unlock new ways towards a sustainable future.

Types and Examples of Microbes

Types and examples of microbes are a dime a dozen. Earth dates back to untold eons. And over time, a staggering amount of diverse organisms have developed, with more and more discoveries occasionally being showcased.

However, the most popular and widespread family of organisms are microbes. The major groups are bacteria, archaea, protozoa, algae, fungi, and viruses. Each comprises defining characteristics, cellular composition, morphology, and reproduction.


Bacteria are unicellular prokaryotic organisms with a simplistic cell structure. Unlike other biological organisms, they possess no membrane-bound organelles and no nuclei. The genetic material of bacteria is contained in a single loop of DNA.

However, there are others that contain an extra circle of genetic material known as the plasmid. The field of microbiology owes its existence to bacteria to a large extent. The experiments of France’s Louis Pasteur and Germany’s Robert Koch established the importance of microbes.


Algae are eukaryotic organisms that share similarities with plants because they photosynthesize, contain chlorophyll, and have rigid cell walls. Algae are mostly found within moist and aquatic environments. And they are not relegated to a single multicellular or unicellular category – they embody both.

As a group, algae are showcased in a variety of distinctive shapes. Single-celled algae species could be spherical, rod-shaped, club-shaped, or spindle-shaped. Multicellular algae are often more complex.


Fungi are similar eukaryotic organisms with rigid cell walls and may also be unicellular or multicellular. Some are microscopic, while others constitute much larger structures such as bracket fungi that grow in damp areas or moist soil. Fungi absorb dissolved nutrients within their environment as food. It is also classified into yeasts and molds.


Protozoans are single-celled eukaryotic organisms that manifest themselves in distinctive ways, such as the oval, spherical, or elongated. At different life stages, they evolve into different shapes. Their cells can be small or large. And the cell is similar to animal cells because they have no cell walls, and they can move at some stages in their life cycle and ingest food particles.

There are phytoflagellate protozoa that are plant-like, and these depend on photosynthesis. When viewed through the lens of a microscope, protozoa have been known to show quick darting movements.


Viruses are pathogenic organisms with simplistic structures because they are bereft of cells and organelles. The field that exclusively studies and investigates viruses is known as virology. All viruses are obligate parasites; this implies that they lack an autonomy of metabolic machinery of their own to generate energy or synthesize proteins.

Therefore, they largely depend on host cells to carry out these functions. Within host cells, they can quickly usurp all energy-generating properties. Outside of a host cell, they exist as virions. Virions are the most numerous biological entities powerful enough to mutate rapidly.

Viruses have sparked a debate amongst scientific scholars for decades, as most scientists do not believe that they are technically alive, unlike other microbes. They have also proven to be hazardous because they are primarily responsible for various diseases in humans, plants, and animals.

What Do Microbes Look Like?

Microbes are super tiny. Some are even smaller than animal cells and require a microscope to view their structures. However, some unicellular microbes are macroscopic.

Meanwhile, microbes take different shapes and structures, depending on the type. For instance, bacteria can be cylindrical, spherical, spiral, corkscrew, or even comma-shaped. Also, microbes like viruses often resemble rods or even spherical like bacteria.

Can You See Microbes?

Microbes are minute. They stay stealthily hidden from the human eye. For instance, fungus growth on stale bread or food cannot be seen with the naked eye but with a magnifying glass or lens. Although the great masses of bacteria can be seen with the naked eye, the single bacterial cells cannot be seen.

However, this doesn’t mean that there are no exceptions. Sometime in 1999, the discovery of a great spherical bacterial behemoth was made in the greenish ooze of ocean sediment off the coast of Namibia.

The bacteria had a way of forming strands of a dozen or more cells, glistening white from light and reflecting off sulfur. Scientists named it Thiomargarita namibiensis, loosely translated as sulfur pearl from Namibia.

How to See Microbes

Since microbes can rarely be seen with the human eye, science has had to depend on microscopic mechanisms to truly visualize the structures and morphology of microbes. However, the observation of microbes requires the use of microscopes and the arrangements and preparation of cells in a way that is appropriate for the particular kind of microscopy.

The first decades of the 20th century witnessed the compound light microscope as the most common instrument used in microbial inspection and observation. Light microscopes have a magnification factor of 1000× and maximum useful magnification of 2000×.

Specimens are duly observed after several techniques have been carried out to highlight morphological characteristics. Four methods are the most popular in identifying microbes, and they:

  • The bright field method requires the specimen to be stained and observed while illuminated. It has been used to observe the morphological features of bacteria, fungi, algae, and protozoa.
  • Darkfield method – in this method, the specimen is suspended within a liquid on a unique slide and can be observed in its living state. It has been helpful for the determination of microorganism motility or to deduce special characteristics such as spiral or coiled shapes.
  • The fluorescence technique requires a stain with a fluorescent dye, and the illuminated objects that absorb the dye give off a glow, making observation much more effortless.
  • Phase contrast- in this method, special condenser lenses allow the observation of living cells and the distinction of cellular structures of various densities.

Where are Microbes Found?

Perhaps the question shouldn’t be where microbes are found but where they aren’t because they are everywhere. To take that again, everywhere!

Microbes have been around for approximately 3.5 billion years. This means they have evolved to survive in virtually all habitats. In 2016, scientists discovered a superbug a thousand feet underground in a New Mexico cave. It had been isolated from the world for four million years.

Bacteria and archaea have been found near deep-sea hydrothermal vents – an environment with high temperatures and tremendous pressures. Bacteria have also been discovered at the bottom of the ocean in ancient ice in Alaska.

Microbes have even been found in the clouds above, which can be catalysts for rain or snow. For clouds to produce rain or snow, tiny particles must serve as nuclei for condensation. Microbes can do this and have even adapted to survive UV radiation.

Microbes also live in the soil and our bodies. This community of microbes makes up our microbiota. Everyone has a unique and distinctive microbiota. An estimated 100 million bacteria live inside our bodies and within our skin – ten times more than human cells.


The study of microbes is riddled with complexities but incredibly important for the planet. Microbes have proven that they are both hazardous and indispensable to humanity over time. Yet their contradictory properties make them unique to biotechnology, the ecosystem, and human life in general.

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