Microbes Week Banner

6. Microbes In Nature: Believe It or Not

Part of

Microbes are everywhere and do lots of different jobs. Here are some believe it or not facts about some microbes in nature:

Leaf-cutter ants: microbes – friend or foe?

During Mini-beasts week you watched videos featuring the leaf-cutter ants. Did you know that leaf-cutter ants are expert farmers? These special ants go on long journeys to find fresh pieces of leaves that they use to grow a white nutritious fungus, Leucoagaricus gonglyophorous, for their food. See how they make it by watching this video.


Along the way of leaf hunting, leaf-cutter ants can encounter the harmful fungus named Escovopsis that can destroy their fungus food! Thankfully, the ants are equipped with helpful bacteria that live on their bodies and can kill the harmful fungus.

Some scientists are studying leaf-cutter ants as they have been making their own antibiotics for millions of years without the worry of resistance. You can learn more about this work led by Matt Hutchings, a Professor of Molecular Microbiology at the University of East Anglia:


You will learn more about antibiotics on Friday, and how scientists are trying to find new ones all the time.

Before you see rain, do you smell it? It’s thanks to microbes!

Have you ever noticed a fresh musky smell just before or after it has rained? Rain doesn’t smell so where does this smell come from? It comes from compounds called petrichor that have been produced by living things when it is dry.

A microbe called actinobacteria are one of the main contributors to this smell. They make a compound called geosmin when they decompose dead or decaying organic matter. When it rains, the raindrops dissolve the geosmin and release it as an aerosol (mist) which fills the air – it works a bit like when you spray air freshener or perfume. As the wind can carry this smell, it might mean you can smell the petrichor before you see the rain!

Rain In The Gardent
Rain In The Garden

If you have enjoyed these activities please share them with your friends and family.