International Microorganism Day

Don’t sweat the small stuff… Except on the 17th of September

Making a big deal out of the small stuff is what International Microorganism Day is about, to draw attention to the tiniest of living creatures you cannot see with the naked eye. The idea was initiated by the Portuguese Society of Microbiology, to educate the broader community about the importance of microorganisms in the environment and health.1

How did this day come about?

It all started back in 1683 on the 17th of September, when a man by the name of Antonie van Leeuwenhoek presented his discovery of a single celled organism to the Royal Society in London.2 This letter was the first documented evidence of a microbe, which led to Leeuwenhoek being dubbed the father of microbiology. To pay homage to him, the 17th of September was chosen to celebrate International Microorganism Day.2

International Microorganism Day

What are Microorganisms?

Microorganisms are small living things which cannot be seen by the human eye and have been around for 3.8 billion years.3 They inhabit water, soil, and air with some evolving to survive in extreme environments such as high heat4 – they live everywhere! Most bacteria are harmless, however there are some that can cause illness such as Escherichia coli. Escherichia coli is usually found in the colon but can invade the urethra, leading to urinary tract infections, which are treatable with antibiotics.5 Whilst most people are familiar with disease causing bacteria, microbes are an essential part of life. They aid in digestion of food and are used in chemical production such as ethanol. Food production as we know depends on microbial activity to produce products such as cheese, yoghurt, bread, wine, and beer.4

You may be wondering; how does one observe such tiny things? Through the development of microscopy! Leeuwenhoek observed microbes using microscopes he had developed himself. It is likely that he first observed protozoa.6 Today a series of special stains are used to make microbes more visible under the microscope. The most commonly used stain were developed by Hans Christian Gram, now known as the Gram stain technique.7

In microbiology laboratories, scientists around the world look at culture plates to detect bacterial growth for the treatment of infectious diseases. Even the smallest colony might be important to help save someone’s life. Clever Culture Systems’ APAS Independence is an innovative technology using artificial intelligence to automatically image, analyse and categorise culture plates for the presence of microbial growth.

Learn more about the APAS Independence

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Louis Pasteur considered that “the role of the infinitely small in nature is infinitely large”, so efforts put into the dissemination and literacy of microbiology in society will facilitate informed choices related to vaccination, use of antibiotics, quality control of food and food safety, and advanced biofuels.8

How can you get involved?

  • Participate in the live stream events online
  • Produce some artwork and participate in the FEMS microbe mascot competition2
  • Make your own bread at home and watch the yeast work its magic
  • Watch some educational videos about Microorganisms and their role on this planet

1 Instituto de Tecnologia Química e Biológica (2018). Celebrating International Microorganism Day. ITQB NOVA [Accessed 5 Jul. 2022]. Available here

2 Federation of European Microbiological Societies. International Microorganism Day 2020. FEMS. [Accessed 20 Jan. 2022]. Available here

3 ACSQHC, 2017. Heidelberg, K. (2022). Why Microbes Matter. University of South Carolina [Accessed 20 Jan. 2022]. Available here

4 NCBI (2019). What are microbes? [Accessed 20 Jan 2022]. Available here.

5 Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2022. Urinary Tract Infections. [Accessed 18 August 2022]. Available here.

6 Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia, 2022. “Antonie van Leeuwenhoek”. Encyclopaedia Britannica, [Accessed 5 Jul 2022]. Available here.

7 Tsang, J. (2020). Identifying Bacteria Through Look, Growth, Stain and Strain. American Society for Microbiology. [Accessed 5 Jul. 2022]. Available here.

8 International Microorganism Day, 2022. Why microorganisms have their international day! — International Microorganism Day. International Microorganism Day. [Accessed 23 August 2022]. Available here.


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