Invisible Galaxies: How Microbial Life Shapes Our Planet and Inspires Frontier Science
We live on an ancient, wet, microbial planet. The oceans are Earth’s most prominent feature, covering nearly 70% of its surface area and teaming with more than 10 million marine microbes in every drop of seawater—a vast and virtual "microbial galaxy," with their evolutionary history dating back to the origin of life itself. These organisms, which include diverse representatives of phytoplankton, protists, bacteria, archaea, and viruses, are invisible to the naked eye, yet they dominate the abundance, diversity and metabolic activity of oceanic ecosystems and have shaped the world as we know it. This seminar will explore microbial life in an earth systems context. Students will discuss a range of diverse topics, which span their impact on Earth’s geological, chemical, and biological history, their role as critical first responders to climate change, how they are central in our search for extraterrestrial life, and how they inspire the interface between art and science.