You have seen several kinds of plants and animals. However, there are other living organisms around us which we cannot see with eyes alone. These are called microorganisms or microbes. For example, you might have observed that during rainy season moist bread gets spoilt and its surface gets covered with greyish white patches. Observe these patches through a magnifying glass. You will see tiny, black rounded structures. Do you know what these structures are and where did these come from?
Do you find tiny organisms moving
These observations show that water and soil are full of tiny organisms, though not all of them fall into the category of microbes. These microorganisms or microbes are so small in size that they cannot be seen with the unaided eye. Some of these, such as the fungus that grows on bread, can be seen with a magnifying glass. Others cannot be seen without the help of a microscope. That is why these are called microorganisms or microbes.
Microorganisms may be single-celled like bacteria, some algae and protozoa, or multicellular, such as algae and fungi. They can survive under all types of environment, ranging from ice cold climate to hot springs and deserts to marshy lands. They are also found inside the bodies of animals including humans. Some microorganisms grow on other organisms while others exist freely. Microorganisms like amoeba can live alone, while fungi and bacteria may live in colonies.
Microorganisms play an important role in our lives. Some of them are beneficial in many ways whereas some others are harmful and cause diseases. Let us study about them in detail.
Microorganisms are harmful in many ways. Some of the microorganisms cause diseases in human beings, plants and animals. Such disease-causing microorganisms are called pathogens. Some microorganisms spoil food, clothing and leather. Let us study more about their harmful activities.
In Chapter 1, we have learnt about the methods used to preserve and store food grains. How do we preserve cooked food at home? You know that bread left unused under moist conditions is attacked by fungus. Microorganisms spoil our food. Spoiled food emits bad smell and has a bad taste and changed colour. Is spoiling of food a chemical reaction?
You have learnt about the bacterium Rhizobium in Classes VI and VII. It is involved in the fixation of nitrogen in leguminous plants (pulses). Recall that Rhizobium lives in the root nodules of leguminous plants (Fig. 2.9), such as beans and peas, with which it has a symbiotic relationship. Sometimes nitrogen gets fixed through the action of lightning. But you know that the amount of nitrogen in the atmosphere remains constant. You may wonder how? Let us understand this in the next section.
Our atmosphere has 78% nitrogen gas. Nitrogen is one of the essential constituents of all living organisms as part of proteins, chlorophyll, nucleic acids and vitamins. The atmospheric nitrogen cannot be taken directly by plants and animals. Certain bacteria and blue green algae present in the soil fix nitrogen from the atmosphere and convert into compounds of nitrogen. Once nitrogen is converted into these usable compounds, it can be utilised by plants from the soil through their root system. Nitrogen is then used for the synthesis of plant proteins and other compounds. Animals feeding on plants get these proteins and other nitrogen compounds (Fig. 2.10).