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What are microorganisms? And why are they an important part of ecosystems? Learn about the role of microorganisms both inside large organisms like humans, and in the ecosystem as a whole.

Definition of Microorganisms

If you’re a germophobe, this lesson probably isn’t for you.

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That’s because I’m about to tell you something you’ll find horrifying: microorganisms are absolutely everywhere. They’re on every surface, every wall, all over your skin, and inside your body. While that might make you shudder and give you the creeps, most of them are completely harmless, and some of them are hugely important to organisms and the ecosystem as a whole.

Bacteria are everywhere, and most of them are perfectly safe
Bacteria are everywhere, and most of them are perfectly safe

Microorganisms are organisms (lifeforms) that are small enough to be microscopic. In other words, they require a microscope to be seen.

Examples of types of microorganisms include bacteria, protozoa, viruses, and fungi. In this lesson, we’re going to take a look at how they impact large organisms and ecosystems, both for their good and bad.

Role in Organisms

Inside organisms like humans, microorganisms can be wonderfully useful, or terribly destructive. Most people know that bacteria and viruses can make you sick, and that some can even be deadly; but did you know that most microorganisms inside you have no negative effects, or are even useful?

Some kinds of bacteria can cause infections
Decomposition provide nutrients for new life
Decomposition provide nutrients for new life

Oxygen production is where carbon dioxide or other elements are turned into oxygen through chemical reactions. Trees are most well known as oxygen producers, and rainforests are often described as ‘the lungs of the world’, but microorganisms actually produce just as much oxygen as the rainforests.

Evolution is where organisms gradually change and improve themselves through competition and other pressures from the natural environment. Since microorganisms can sometimes be parasitic, which means taking advantage of larger organisms for their own gain, this can cause weaker species to die out and stronger species to survive.Last of all, symbiotic relationships are where two organisms help each other, like with human gut bacteria, for example. These relationships are important for an ecosystem because they allow multiple species to help each other be successful.

Lesson Summary

Microorganisms are small lifeforms (such as bacteria, protozoa, viruses, and fungi) that can be seen under a microscope.

Microorganisms are found everywhere, on every surface, and inside and around every life form. Their role in organisms can be both good and bad. Some bacteria and viruses cause large organisms like us to get sick, but we also have microorganisms inside us that help us digest food, defend against dangerous bacteria, absorb toxins, and reduce stress, among other things.Microorganisms have important roles to play in ecosystems, too. Using dead animal and plant matter to produce fertile soil, they facilitate decomposition with nutrients for plants to re-use. They’re even more responsible than plants for oxygen production, where carbon dioxide or other elements are turned into oxygen through chemical reactions.

Microorganisms aid the process of evolution, where organisms gradually change and improve themselves through competition and other pressures from the natural environment. They also create mutually beneficial, or symbiotic, relationships with other organisms, as well as parasitic relationships, in which one organism takes advantage of larger organisms for their own gain. With all this in mind, it’s clear that microorganisms are a major part of our daily lives and the environment in which we live.

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