A Tour of A Hidden Universe

“Most of life is invisible. Everything that you can actually see with your eye is just the smallest sliver of life on this Earth,” says Bonnie Bassler, professor of microbiology at Princeton University.

But here’s the thing: we’re immensely affected by this hidden universe of tiny creatures. Look no further than the front page news these past few months and witness the effect that the Ebola virus is having on us.

The Tree of Life depicts every living organism that we know about on Earth. The only ones we are able to see, however, are depicted at the top right – the animals (that’s us), the plants, and a few of the molds and fungi. For all the rest we need magnified pictures.

But those magnified pictures can fool us because they typically don’t provide contrast. Instead, they represent all micro-creatures to be roughly the same size. Which is akin to showing a child similar size pictures of ants and elephant’s, thus leaving the impression they’re roughly the same dimension! What you need of course is contrast, i.e. a picture of the ant (standing!) beside the elephant.

The same holds true for us and our understanding of the Hidden Universe. So here’s a really neat animation that solves the problem. It lets us peek into the unseen universe of bugs and things and see not only what they look like and how they compare in size to each other but – and here’s the trick – it lets us compare them to something we’re very familiar with as all the various life forms are sitting side-by-side on the head of a pin.

So explore the secret world of Ebola, E. coli, staph aureus, blood cells, and so on, and notice how many thousands of times bigger, or hundreds of thousands of times bigger, one is from the other.

Click on “Start the Animation …” and enjoy the tour!

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