Mysterious viruses, electrical bacteria, tiny plastic eaters: 10 things we learned about microbes in 2021

Take a trip to the marvelous world of microbes, where bacteria inhale electricity, neon-yellow mucous membranes forage for snacks on the forest floor and thousands of mysterious viruses hang out in your stomach. This year, scientists have made a number of fascinating discoveries about the microscopic organisms that live in and all around us – here are a few of our favorite stories.

Thousands of unknown viruses found in the human gut

Bacteriophages are viruses that infect bacteria.

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Researchers have discovered more than 70,000 unknown viruses that populate the human gut and infect the bacteria that live there. They found these viruses using a method called metagenomics, which involves sampling genetic material from a large community of microbes and matching the sequences to specific species. After analyzing 28,000 gut microbiome samples taken from 28 countries, the team identified tens of thousands of newly found bacteriophages or viruses that can infect bacteria. It is still unclear if and how these bacteriophages affect the body, but the vast majority are probably not harmful to humans.

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