A tablespoon of soil contains billions of microscopic organisms. Life on
Earth, especially the growing of food, depends on these microbes, but
scientists don't even have names for most of them, much less a description.
That's changing, slowly, thanks to researchers like Noah Fierer , at the
University of Colorado, Boulder. Fierer think microbes have lived in
obscurity for too long. "They do a lot of important things for us, directly
or indirectly, and I hope they get the respect they deserve," he says. These
microbes create fertile soils, help plants grow, consume and release carbon
dioxide, oxygen and other vital elements. But they do it all anonymously.
Scientists haven't identified most of these species and don't know much else
about them, either, such as "what they're doing in soil, how they're
surviving, what they look like," Fierer says. According to Fierer, they've
been extremely difficult to study, in part, because most of them refuse to
grow anywhere but in the dirt, "so we