Imagining a “World Without Microbes”

Eradication of microbial disease likely accompanied by poor quality of life for remaining species

Dec 18, 2014
Tracy Vence

WIKIMEDIA, US NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATIONWould life continue in a world without microbes? Argonne National Laboratory’s Jack Gilbert and Josh Neufeld from the University of Waterloo attempted to address this question in PLOS Biology this week (December 17).

In a world without microbes, Gilbert and Neufeld wrote, most ruminant livestock would quickly starve, whereas “small pockets of humans and other animals (e.g., insects) would survive for a time, decades or centuries even.” Quality of life would quickly diminish, however, as “living food sources would be increasingly difficult to find.” The loss of microbes’ contribution to biomass recycling, the authors continued, would likely result in the “rapid exhaustion of available macronutrients and micronutrients.” On the upside, microbial diseases would no longer be an issue.