Besides macroscopic plants and animals, microbes are the major components of biological systems on this earth. You have studied about the diversity of living organisms in Class XI.
Do you remember which Kingdoms among the living organisms contain micro-organisms? Which are the ones that are only microscopic? Microbes are present everywhere – in soil, water, air, inside our bodies and that of other animals and plants.
They are present even at sites where no other life-form could possibly exist–sites such as deep inside the geysers (thermal vents) where the temperature may be as high as 1000C, deep in the soil, under the layers of snow several metres thick, and in highly acidic environments.
Microbes are diverse–protozoa, bacteria, fungi and microscopic plants viruses, viroids and also prions that are proteinacious infectious agents. Microbes like bacteria and many fungi can be grown on nutritive media to form colonies, that can be seen with the naked eyes. Such cultures are useful in studies on micro-organisms.
In chapter 8, you have read that microbes cause many diseases in human beings. They also cause diseases in animals and plants. But this should not make you think that all microbes are harmful; several microbes are useful to man in diverse ways.
Some of the most important contributions of microbes to human welfare are discussed in this chapter.