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Micropia: Finally a zoo for the micro-multitudes!


The world's first interactive microbe zoo opens in Amsterdam, shining new light on the tiny creatures that make up two-thirds of all living matter.

Microbes – the first organisms that appeared on Earth and still the most numerous – finally have a museum to call their own. Built at a cost of €10mil (RM41mil), the Micropia museum opens on Sept 30 and is located next to Amsterdam's Artis Royal Zoo.

"Zoos have traditionally tended to show just a small part of nature, namely the larger animals," says Haig Balian, director of Artis Royal Zoo, who came up with the idea of exposing an array of living microbes in a "micro-zoo" 12 years ago. "Today we want to display micro-nature," says Balian, who believes the importance of microbes in our daily lives has been underestimated ever since Dutch scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek observed the microscopic creatures in the 17th century.

Not for germophobes: Just some of the star exhibits of Micropia, although you may have to squint very hard to see them.

Microbes are often associated with illness, through viruses, bacteria, fungi and algae, but they are also essential for our survival and will play an increasingly important role in humanity and the planet's future, says Balian. "Microbes are everywhere. Therefore you need microbiologists who can work in every sector in hospitals, food production, the oil industry and pharmaceuticals, for instance."

They are already used to produce biofuels, develop new type of antibiotics and improve crop yields. Experiments have shown their future potential for everything from generating electricity to strengthening building foundations and curing cancer. "If we leave the science of microbiology in the dark to just a few experts, interest in it will never develop," says Balian. "We want to show visitors how everything in nature is interconnected and how fundamentally microbes are part of that connection."

Microbes on eyes, in kisses

Much of the museum – which claims to be a world-first – looks like a laboratory, complete with rows of microscopes connected to giant television screens. Visitors can look through a window at a real-life laboratory where different kinds of microbes are being reproduced in Petri dishes and test tubes.

Do you really want to know? One of the interactive exhibits at Micropia is this body scanner that tells visitors what microbes live in and on their bodies.

Step into a lift and look up to see an animation of a camera zooming on someone's eye, revealing the tiny mites that live on our eyelashes. Each adult human body carries around 1.5kg of microbes, and we need them in order to survive. The camera then zooms in on bacteria on the mite and finally on a virus on the bacteria.

Visitors can watch microbes reproduce under a 3D-microscope, especially designed and built for Micropia, or see a giant scale model of the Ebola virus that's ravaging west Africa. Bolder visitors can try the "Kiss-o-Meter" and be told how many microbes are being transferred as a couple kisses. A microbe scanner will instantly tell how many microbes live on a visitor's body and where.

"Did you know that for instance there are 700 species of microbes living in your mouth? Or that 80 kinds of fungi live on your heel?" Balian asked with a smile. "A visit to Micropia will forever change the way you see the world," says Balian. – AFP Relaxnews

   

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