FEMS: International Microorganism Day event will show how important microorganisms are to human health

These updates are republished press releases and communications from members of the Science|Business Network

Microorganisms have made headlines in 2020 for all the wrong reasons. On 17 September we will take the opportunity to tell other, more nuanced, stories of bacteria, viruses, yeasts ad fungi. This is International Microorganism Day, an opportunity to explore the diversity and variety of microorganisms and a chance to encourage everyone to recognize and celebrate the many ways microscopic organisms are important in human health, culture and, throughout our daily lives.

An understanding of key microbial activities is essential in society for informed personal decisions as well as for policy development in government and business. However, unlike other subjects having a significant impact upon humankind, knowledge of these vital microbial activities, how they impact our lives, and how they may be harnessed for the benefit of humankind – microbiology literacy – is low among the public and decision makers.

This International Microorganism Day we are making an effort to promote the positive contributions of microorganisms in our daily lives given the negative stories associated with viruses in the news. Microbiologists from across the globe will be developing engaging teaching materials, introducing research in comprehensible terms, sharing interesting facts and stories online. We hope to demonstrate to educators, policy makers, business leaders and relevant governmental and non‐governmental agencies the significance of microorganisms and the need for education and outreach. You can find out more via our website: https://www.internationalmicroorganismday.org


Microorganisms and their activities have widespread, significant, and generally positive effects on the health and wellbeing of human beings and the entire surface of the planet and its atmosphere. Invisible to the human eye, they are the hidden power in many everyday activities, serving to ferment foods and treat sewage, to produce fuel, enzymes, and other bioactive compounds and a vital component of fertile soil. In the human body, they make up the human microbiota, including the essential gut flora. The pathogens responsible for many infectious diseases are also microbes and as such are the target of disease prevention and control measures.

Microorganisms include all unicellular organisms and so are extremely diverse. They live in almost every habitat from the poles to the equator, deserts, geysers, rocks, and the deep sea. Some are adapted to extremes such as very hot or very cold conditions, others to high pressure, and a few to high radiation environments. There is evidence that 3.45-billion-year-old Australian rocks once contained microorganisms, the earliest direct evidence of life on Earth.

E-coli cluster, a bacteria named by Theodor Escherich, Most E. coli strains do not cause disease, occurring naturally in the gut
photo by Eric Erbe, of USDA, ARS, EMU (Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=958857)

The scientific study of microorganisms began with their observation under the microscope in the 1670s by Antonie van Leeuwenhoek. 17 September was chosen to acknowledge the date in 1683 van Leeuwenhoek - a Dutch merchant with no formal education - sent a letter to the Royal Society in London, reporting the first description of a single-celled organism. Louis Pasteur discovered in the 1850s that microorganisms caused food spoilage. In the 1880s although Robert Koch found that microorganisms caused the diseases tuberculosis, cholera, and anthrax, Theodor Escherich demonstrated that microorganisms are part of the normal human system when he observed the same bacteria type in both healthy children and children with diarrheal disease.

An appreciation of microorganisms is vital to be able to understand and respond to the threat of antimicrobial resistance (AMR); increased zoonotic diseases; to climate change as well as to be able to exploit the features of microorganisms to use of bacteria to our advantage in industrial applications to degrade waste and eat contamination, to provide food and fuel more efficiently and, many more diverse areas. A recent addition to the talents of microorganisms is the use of biomineralizing bacteria in self-healing construction materials. 

We hope the collaboration of microbe enthusiasts around the world sharing their passion and knowledge of microbes and their value to all humankind on 17 September will have this impact.

You can discover more via the International Microorganism Day website: https://www.internationalmicroorganismday.org or follow the event via social media using the hashtags

#InternationalMicroorganismDay #WhyMicroMatters and #MicrobiologyIsEverywhere

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