Geomicrobiology Update 1

I have finished with Unit 1. I had to explain them about different parts of earth which serve as a microbial habitat, with emphasis on lithosphere and hydrosphere. For this I had to focus on two things. 1st about different component, zones and structure of lithosphere and hydrosphere and 2nd about different groups of microorganisms present in such environments.

Teaching 1st part was tricky as it involved geology. Students were not accustomed to geological terminology and since it is a microbiology course, content was not detail enough to make them understand the small differences between various zones. Hydrosphere consisted of different system (oceans, lakes, river, ponds and groundwater) and thus because of differences in motion, density, temperature, light and oxygenation, accounted for different group of microbes in different  zones in each system and between each system.

But when I came to 2nd part, explaining microorganism, this was the part which left me most confused and should I say most starving for. I went about looking in books about different microorganism present in such systems and the answer that I could find was “all types”. So why am I starving, if the plate is full of microbes?

The reason is that I needed some dominancy between microbes (like between different animal and plants in different part of earth), some consistency among microbes (like consistency in laws of gravity) or some common interaction and communication among microbes (like oxygen and hydrogen usually combine to form H2O).

Now it is correct that a detail book about each habitat of our planet Earth would give some common trends about types microbes present but even such book mostly consist of names of microbes identified by some researcher at some place. This leaves me confused and questioning that are the microbes identified by such researcher, present where I am situated? And hungry, questioning about what do microbes actually do?

I do understand that we should celebrate that yay microbes are diverse and diverse means its good. But I want to confirm that they are not like us humans for whom diverse and different means bad (not all of us). I want to confirm that the microbes are not separated by boundaries as we are. I want to have knowledge about them as good and detail we have about zoology, botany, physics or chemistry.

So ultimately where does the problem lies? Why am I finding that there are all types of microorganism in earth crust or lithosphere or hydrosphere or oceans without getting major names? Is it because they are actually all types of microorganism or is it because of lack of knowledge or is it something else?

Well I do believe (take note of “I” and “believe”) that there are actually all types of microorganism present is such habitats but we still lack knowledge, for us to further separate them spatially in different zones or even to conclude that it is not that case and understand their interaction with each other. But there is more to it.

We all as a researcher are guilty of studying microbes at our specific regions. Instead of interacting with other researcher present at similar habitat in different regions or including such regions in our research scope, we do a limited study and make a big conclusion. Isn’t it an irony that in order to conclude that microbes are similar spatially we all work different spatially?

So it’s good news for microbiologist that we have yet not discovered (hurray) anything significant! There is still scope to develop new methodologies, new ideas, new detection system, new sampling instruments (we have it for mars but still not good enough for deep oceans and their sediments), new funding ideas and wild imaginations about their interaction capabilities.

Finally I conclude with an analogy I used in last semester teaching about soil microbiology. Analogy between microbes present in different zones of soil and Dante’s Inferno. As our soul passes through different circle of hell guarded by different guards in each circle, our body also passes through different circle (layer) of hell digested by different microbes in each circle. The problem is that we know the name of guards but still not the names of microbes.

(More about this analogy in next post)


Ref: Chapter 2,4,5 and 6, Ehrilich Geomicrobiology Sixth Edition Edited by Henry Lutz Ehrlich, Dianne K. Newman, and Andreas Kappler 2016


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