From Beer to Antibiotics, the 7 Wonders of the Microbe World

By Maria Popova

Microbes are the oldest form of life on Earth and they outnumber all other species. From the fine folks at Open University -- who previously brought us this brilliant series of six famous philosophy thought experiments, animated -- comes Seven Wonders of the Microbe World, a fascinating short documentary about what microbes have done for humanity (which, by the way, they still refer to as "mankind" -- and we've just observed the problem with that). From microbes' role in producing some of our favorite foods, including bread, cheese, yogurt, and beer, to nitrogen fixation as the cornerstone of modern organic farming to how the Black Death enabled a new class of entrepreneurs, the seven "wonders" covered include the history of beer, The Black Death, food preservation, nitrogen fixation, antibiotics, genetic engineering, and life on Mars.

One of the interesting social implications of The Black Death is that church leaders were not able to provide any explanation of how this disease was caused and, as a result, the authority of church leaders began to be eroded and people began to question whether they should listen to religious leaders at all. Some people have even said that the English Reformation was caused by the Black Death.

For more on the fascinating world of microbes, you won't go wrong with March of the Microbes: Sighting the Unseen. And for something a little fuzzier, there's always Giant Microbes' series of stuffed microbes -- who can resist a huggable E. coli?

Via Open Culture.

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This post also appears on Brain Pickings, an Atlantic partner site.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2011/12/from-beer-to-antibiotics-the-7-wonders-of-the-microbe-world/249753/