Scott Chimileski and Roberto Kolter are guest curators of a new exhibition at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, “Microbial Life: A Universe at the Edge of Sight,” open through September 3, 2019. (View video of a live tour of the exhibit, led by Chimileski and other researchers.)
Microbes create medicines, filter waste water, and clean pollution. They give cheese funky flavors, wines complex aromas, and bread a nutty crumb. Life at the Edge of Sight is a stunning visual exploration of the inhabitants of an invisible world, from the pioneering findings of a seventeenth-century visionary to magnificent close-ups of the inner workings and cooperative communities of Earth’s most prolific organisms.
Using cutting-edge imaging technologies, Scott Chimileski and Roberto Kolter lead readers through breakthroughs and unresolved questions scientists hope microbes will answer soon. They explain how microbial studies have clarified the origins of life on Earth, guided thinking about possible life on other planets, unlocked evolutionary mechanisms, and helped explain the functioning of complex ecosystems. Microbes have been harnessed to increase crop yields and promote human health.
But equally impressive, Life at the Edge of Sight opens a beautiful new frontier for readers to explore through words and images. We learn that there is more microbial biodiversity on a single frond of duckweed floating in a Delft canal than the diversity of plants and animals that biologists find in tropical rainforests. Colonies with millions of microbes can produce an array of pigments that put an artist’s palette to shame. The microbial world is ancient and ever-changing, buried in fossils and driven by cellular reactions operating in quadrillionths of a second. All other organisms have evolved within this universe of microbes, yielding intricate beneficial symbioses. With two experts as guides, the invisible microbial world awaits in plain sight.