What is a Microbe?

You probably know more about microbes than you realize. While the term microbe itself may seem foreign, we’re sure you’ve heard about bacteria, eaten a fungi, or have read an article about a virus in your life. Those are types of microbes. In fact, microbes are a blanket term for a whole other world of microorganisms.

Okay, so while you may now realize that you know a thing or two about microbes, there’s still a lot to learn. Like, what is the difference between types of microbes such as a virus or a bacteria strain or a yeast?

So, let’s take a look at the different types of microbes and what sets them apart from one another.

What Are Microbes?

In order for distinct types of microbes to be classified, they need to have a common denominator that would put them all under the same umbrella. Microbes is a broad term for a “microscopic organism.”

That means that microbes are too small to be seen without the use of a microscope.

Archaea

These are single-celled organisms. They contain no nucleus but do have an outer membrane. The membrane consist of liquids that unique to the strain.

bacteria

On a superficial level, arcahea is similar to bacteria. In fact, this microbe used to be classified as archaebacteria. After all, archaea checked all the boxes of a bacteria. The two life forms have a comparable size and shape.

Both archaea and bacteria:

  • Genetically have a circular structure
  • Are Missing Organelles
  • Thrive in Like Environments

However, that’s where the similarities end. On a biochemical level, the outer membrane has a rare lipid only found in that particular archaea. Additionally, the actual infrastructure of their cell walls differ from bacteria. Bacteria’s wall is comprised of peptidoglycan cells, meaning that it’s a bunch of connective tissue held together by two or more amino acids.

In fact the differences between the two life forms became so clear that archaeabacteria became just archaea. That’s right, archaea got the ol’ Pluto treatment. Don’t worry Pluto, you don’t need the solar system. If archaea can go on and do it’s own thing, then you can too!

Bacteria

Bacteria has been around a minute…or two…or 3.5 million years. All booming life today are direct descendants of the first organisms to live on earth.  This bacteria has been immortalized in the oldest fossil known to man.

Size-wise, most bacteria is smaller than the cells that comprise our bodies.

Like archaea, most bacteria don’t have any organelles such as the nucleus, but they do have an outer membrane. In order to survive, almost every strain of bacteria needs to be surrounded by one layer of cell wall minimum.

Fungi

Unlike the first two types of microbes on this list, fungi do have a nuclei. They are made of chitin, which are oddly enough the same substance responsible for the exoskeleton of crustacean life.

Fungi covers a wide range of species. The ones that are most common to human life are:

  • Molds
  • Mushrooms
  • Yeast

While all classified as fungi those three react differently to their environment. For one, molds and mushrooms are the fruiting byproducts of a strain of fungi.

Black Mold
Black Mold

What makes mushrooms (not black mold) nutritional are that they are long fibers and full of healthy carbs and amino acids.  However, if they’ve gone bad they can very detrimental to health. That’s where the black mold type of fungi steps in.

While mushrooms and mold usually come from breaking down waste in the ecosystem, yeast is mostly present on the human body. Don’t be confused with the cooking yeast. While mostly harmless to the human body, the condition yeast infection wasn’t conjured up out of thin air! So don’t go cooking your fungi!

Protists

These type of microbes can be single-celled or multi-cellular and do contain a nuclei.  However, that’s where their similarities among one another end. Taxonomists are constantly changing the classification of the microorganisms classified as protists because they don’t know where else to put them.

In general, the multi-cellular type of protists live as colonies, but there’s no specialization in this process. So, no one knows exactly what makes different types of protists thrive.

They’re so unique that some use chloroplasts to make their own food while others feast on decomposed cells. Additionally, protists tend to reproduce rapidly and in many ways. They are also known to live out complex lives.

Parasitic protists can be the cause of a number of deadly diseases. These include:

  • Amoebic Dysentery
  • Giardia
  • Malaria

While that sounds scary, our body is host many protists. Most prove to be not harmful and some are even considered beneficial.

Virus

Besides bacteria, virus may be the most well-known microbe.  While there is a lot of ambiguity with many forms of microbes, viruses seem to fit into a nice package. They are microscopic organisms that are comprised of:

  • Proteins
  • Nucleic Acids
  • Lipids (In Some Cases)

What makes viruses so scary, like the ones on your computer, are that they are designed to infect the specific host. For instance, when you are diagnosed with HIV, it’s because your unique immune cells are being attacked.

Not all viruses reproduce. That makes them a controversial addition to the list of microbes.

That’s because consider viruses not-living for the fact that they can’t do the single aspect that defines living organisms.