The Campaign to Promote Respect for Microbes: An Awareness Program

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The Campaign to Promote Respect for Microbes is a community that celebrates the role of microorganisms in our lives. From the humble baker's yeast to the bacteria on our skin that keep invaders at bay, the part that microbes play in our everyday lives is enormous - and their importance should be recognised, and respected.


Microorganisms: Living creatures that for the most part cannot be seen by the naked eye (except for the fruiting bodies of fungi, or large clumps of microorganisms); a group comprising bacteria, protozoa, fungi, algae and viruses.

Why a campaign to promote acceptance and respect for microbes?

Yes, you heard right. Respect for microbes.

Microorganisms just aren't getting the respect or appreciation they deserve anymore. Anton van Leeuwenhoek was fascinated by them. Pasteur recognized their importance, both good and bad. Paul de Kruif and Bernard Dixon paid their homage to the shapers of earth and life by educating the public about microorganisms in Microbe Hunters and Power Unseen respectively. But who else does anymore?

It is easy to say, hey, that microbe looks useful, let's use it to make alcohol. It's even easier to say, look, we've got this really bad bug and we're going to have to get rid of it. But where is the respect?

The problem with this world is that too often people try to categorise things into extreme groups. They celebrate the very best (eg. the Nobel Prizes, the Olympics, the Oscars), and condemn the very worst. Unfortunately, the things that make up this world are never 100% good, or 100% bad. Most of them tend to fall into the grey area in between.

That's what microbes are like. Some of them are good. They make certain things in our lives possible - for instance, without microorganisms, plants would have immense difficulty getting access to nitrogen, and cows and other ruminants would have problem digesting cellulose. On the other hand, there are the rogues that have wreaked havoc, causing disease and damage, and generally making life miserable. They live a dual existence.

But the way the education system is rigged, kids in many parts of the world are not even taught about microbes, despite the fact that microorganisms comprise more than two thirds of species diversity. What they do learn they assimilate mostly from the media. And look what the media offers. Most movies and books portray microorganisms as evil creatures bent on creating havoc - The Third Pandemic, Outbreak and Toxin, to name but a few. It is of no surprise, then, that most members of the public have an unnatural fear of microorganisms, or condemn them as bad.

This campaign is not about people having to love microbes. We are all too aware of the devastation that microorganisms have caused throughout history (The Bubonic Plague claimed the lives of over a quarter of Europe during the Dark Ages). But so have Attila the Hun, and Lenin, and Hitler. And yet when people speak of the notorious Al Capone, they describe him as enterprising and successful (albeit as a super gangster, but that's not the point). Respecting something is not a profession of your love or hatred for it. It is simply a recognition and acceptance of what something is capable of. And acknowledging it. In this case, understanding that in this world there are both microbes that can help you and that you can peacefully live with, and that there are bad ones that you should try at all costs to avoid. And knowing the difference between the two.

Please read this article

For those of you who are not familiar with microorganisms, please read For all the Good They Do: Microbes in Perspective. It will help you understand the role microorganisms play in the environment and in life.

The Agenda for the Campaign to Promote Respect for Microbes

  • To create awareness of the importance of microbes (good or bad) in our lives, and in shaping the world - namely, through education of the masses (creating awareness, not microbes moulding the world!);
  • To discourage condemnation of all microorganisms as bad just because a small number of them are capable of causing disease and destruction;
  • To encourage acknowledgment and acceptance of the fact that microorganisms, being living things, must struggle against other organisms and the environment in order to survive, and therefore that any damage or disease that they may cause as a consequence of survival strategy is unintentional and never provoked or spiteful, since microorganisms are no more "aware" of our presence than a tadpole or clam is;
  • To encourage acknowledgment of the fact that microorganisms, being living things, deserve rights just as much as other living things on this planet, and therefore respect the microbes' niche in the environment;
  • To promote among the masses acceptance of microbes as essential components of their lives;
  • To encourage the practice of healthy lifestyle revolving around healthy respect for microorganisms: (1) by understanding how pathogenic microorganisms can harm you, and by correctly and rationally protecting yourself against these microbes through practice of proper sanitary and medical habits (such as washing your hands properly after using the toilet, and finishing the course of antibiotics you are prescribed when you have an infection); yet at the same time (2) understanding that you can co-habit peacefully with most microorganisms, and therefore avoid ridiculous practices such as using antibacterial paint, performing enemas to rid yourselves of intestinal bacteria and abusing antibiotics;
  • To start a community for microbiologists and the general public, where they can discuss their views and opinions on current microbiology/health issues, praise microbes or grouse (does it matter which?) as they choose.

The Order of the Microbes

We are a new community, but it seems that we are finally gaining momentum! Click here to go to the Members' Common Room.

The Campaign Headquarters now has a News and Announcements page. Please visit it to check out the latest news* on microorganisms and the world, or just to browse other microbe-related resources at H2G2 or on the Internet.

How do I join?

All you have to do is fill in the form below, and pledge your loyalty and respect to these little guys. And, if you'd like, share with us how microorganisms have played a part in your life, be it good or bad, desired or otherwise.

Yes! I would like to join the Campaign!
The Pledge of our Order

I hereby pledge my allegiance to all microorganisms, from the biggest mushroom to the smallest virion. I commit myself to a life of peaceful co-existence with microorganisms, and pledge not to intentionally harm them except when they harm me first with disease.

All new members will be knighted (or, if they prefer, branded) with a rusty inoculation loop and a sprinkle of ethanol, and served yoghurt smiley - by means of welcome into the Order.

Membership Badge

Here is our shiny new badge courtesy of Community Artist Lentilla. Members, please collect your badge, and wear it with pride.

(For those of you who are unfamiliar with blobs, add this tag to your page: <PICTURE BLOB="B4645639"/>)

Any contributions in the form of comments or microbiology-related articles are more than welcome.

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