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  • Writer's pictureJulie G - Microbigal!

Microbial Science Fiction: The War of the Worlds - Martians attack Humans, Microbes defeat Martians!

Good morning class! We've got a fun treat for you today! We've talked a lot about the Giant's and their vivid imaginations as they try to understand what the microbial universe around them is doing. They are so darn cute! Besides making up gods, monsters and curses - another area they love to explore in their big fanciful minds is the world outside their little home the earth - the world of outer space where strange new worlds, new life and new civilizations await their discovery! They imagine all kinds of interesting planets, strange beings and how they will bravely explore them someday, when they've figured out how to get there. Of course, it wasn't that long ago that they couldn't figure out how we in the microbial world were affecting every area of their lives! But it sure is fun to follow their outer space follies and let them think they are boldly going where no one has gone before, but, of course, microbes have always been in space!

Science fiction has been a genre of books, radio programs, television shows and movies for many years - I mean, many years for them, for us, it's just been a blip of time. Let's talk about a famous science fiction classic that really started it all, it has an amazing Microbe Moment!

H.G. Wells's 1897 book about Martians coming: The War of the Worlds

Microbes save the world from Martian attack!
Look closely, are those microbes all over the cover?

Let’s start by heading all the way back to 1897, where our first Microbe Moment of SciFi takes place with the “Father of Science Fiction”, H.G.Wells. This book is over a century old and has been turned to a radio broadcast that had Americans scared to death - when it aired, they didn't really announce it was a book they just read it and people thought it was really happening!

I love that! The War of the Worlds is all about a Martian invasion and the unlikely heroes that save the day - you guessed it - Microbes!

Yeah, but what on earth is a Martian?

Well, Mia, they don't actually exist, well, not that the Giants know of. They are what this author imagines the creatures that live on the planet Mars are - that's science fiction!

The story begins some years before with some scientific observations that Mars is a bit closer to earth than normal and people report seeing a series of flashing lights. Until one morning a star appears to plummet from the sky. But it wasn’t a star but a large cylindrical object! It began to draw crowds. It opens and Martians emerge! And they do not come in peace, but immediately decide to incinerate those around them. The army came….war pursued. But the humans are no match for the Martians' Heat rays and “Black smoke of death". People flee the city in terror desperately trying to survive the unending attack from an Alien they know nothing about. The Aliens are quick to take London, and all believe Humanity is all but certainly doomed! But suddenly it appears the torment is over. The aliens…have died? They were “slain by the putrefactive and disease bacteria against which their systems were unprepared.”

I like this quote because it does play into the entanglement of species evolution, of adaptation, of the constant arms race Giants have with some of our seemingly foul-playing microbial friends. While some microbes try and survive, they end up triggering a Giant's immune system and they end up getting sick. Throughout time microbial pathogens change to overcome the Giant's immune systems and in turn their immune systems change to help fight the pathogens. This is both a day-to-day endeavor as their immune cells are constantly identifying microbes and binning them into “not ok” and ok groups. But this is also throughout evolutionary time.

So, there is this tit for tat between us microbes and humans and apparently Martians! This ‘healthy’ arms race for survival between vastly different domains of life. Just about every living thing has at least one other organism that can be considered a pathogen to them. So, this idea that “by virtue of this natural selection we have developed resisting-power” has some truth to it. You know what they say…what doesn’t kill you mutates and tries again!

Certainly, one could say there must be Martian Microbes so the Martians would have no doubt their own ‘bacteria’ which they have adapted to live with and fight off with their own unique immune system - but in H.G. Well's science fiction thriller, one of the earth's microbes took down a Martian invasion single-handedly! Finally, I’d just like to say…. Major props to Mr. H.G. Wells the Father of science fiction, for not only showing the limitations of mankind by the limitless potential of us microbes. We thank you for ending one of the first science fiction novels of modern times with a Microbe Moment only 30 years after Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch established Germ Theory!

Yay, Microbes saved the whole planet! What would they do without us?!

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