The world’s first “interactive microbe zoo” opened in Amsterdam on Tuesday, shining new light on the tiny creatures that make up two-thirds of all living matter and are vital for our planet’s future.
The 10-million-euro ($13 million) Micropia museum is next to Amsterdam’s Artis Royal Zoo, whose director came up with the idea of exposing an array of living microbes in a “micro-zoo” 12 years ago.
“Zoos have traditionally tended to show just a small part of nature, namely the larger animals,” Haig Balian told AFP. “Today we want to display micro-nature.”
Balian believes the importance of microbes in our daily lives has been underestimated ever since Dutch scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek observed the microscopic creatures in the 17th century.
Microbes are often associated with illness, through viruses, bacteria, fungi and algae, but they are also essential for our survival and will play an increasingly important role in humanity and the planet’s future, Balian said.
“Microbes are everywhere. Therefore you need microbiologists who can work in every sector: in hospitals, food production, the oil industry and pharmaceuticals, for instance,” he said.
They are already used to produce biofuels, develop new type of antibiotics and improve crop yields. Experiments have shown their future potential for everything from generating electricity to strengthening building foundations and curing cancer.