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Microscopic menagerie

New view of microbes forces rethinking of what it means to be an organism

2:05pm, December 27, 2013

MADE OF MICROBES  The microbes dwelling in and on multicellular organisms, such as insects and humans, should be viewed as evolutionarily inseparable from their hosts, some biologists argue. 

What is a wasp?” might seem like an overly simple question for a Ph.D. biologist to be asking. “What is a human?” Even more so.

But these are strange times in the life sciences. Seth Bordenstein of Vanderbilt University in Nashville now embraces the notion that each wasp he studies, each squirrel darting around campus — not to mention himself, every reader of science magazines and every other representative of see-it-without-a-microscope life on Earth — is really a blend of one big organism and a lot of little ones.

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