Lobby > Exhibits > Hot Spring Ecology > Microbes > Misunderstood Microbes
Microorganisms are often associated with disease, but only a few kinds
cause problems for humans. Many microbes are beneficial and play complex roles in the Earth’s ecosystems.
Cyanobacteria made the oxygen-rich atmosphere of our planet possible. These microbes
were the first photosynthesizers, more than 3 billion years ago. Without bacteria,
we would not be here.
Microbes are the ultimate recyclers. Without them, decomposition would not occur
and we would be layers deep in dead plants, animals, and piles of garbage.
Our ecosystem needs microbes to decompose matter and return nutrients to the environment.
Without nutrients, plants would not grow in soils and without plants, there would be much
less oxygen. Before plants evolved, all the oxygen in our atmosphere came from microbes.
Today, microorganisms in the sea provide half of the oxygen on our planet.
Microorganisms found in Yellowstone's hydrothermal areas are helping scientists find
cures for cancer and other diseases, solve crimes, and even research the possibility of
life on other planets.
This work is supported by