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On the practical side, microbes have been used in activities from biological warfare to fermentation in food processing. Microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses are important as pathogens, causing disease to humans, crop plants, and domestic animals. Fermentation is an important source of chemicals, as industrial chemists discover how to manufacture a widening variety of organic chemicals including enzymes and bioactive molecules such as hormones and competitive inhibitors for use as medicines. Fermentation is used, too, to produce substitutes for fossil fuels in forms such as ethanol and methane; fuels may also be produced by algae. Anaerobic microorganisms are important in sewage treatment. In scientific research, yeasts serve as model organisms especially in genetics and related fields.
On the artistic side, an early poem about brewing is the Sumerian "Hymn to Ninkasi", from 1800 BC. More recently, Hilaire Belloc wrote a poem to "The Microbe" in 1912. Microbiologists since Alexander Fleming have used coloured or fluorescing colonies of bacteria to create miniature artworks. Dramatic plagues and mass infection have formed the story lines of many Hollywood films, starting with Nosferatu in 1922. In 1971, The Andromeda Strain told the tale of an extraterrestrial microbe threatening life on Earth.
Microbes in the Thames at Brentford and Hungerford. Arthur Hill Hassall, 1850
The Soviet Union 1966 stamp for the Microbiology International Congress. Bacteria and viruses form the background.
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