Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, the father of microscopy, famously discovered that even clean, fresh water teemed with what he called animicules. “Some of these,” he wrote, “are so exceedingly small that millions of millions might be contained in a single drop of water.”
It was a revelation that astonished and delighted van Leeuwenhoek in the 17th Century, and it’s no less delightful and astonishing today.
This evening, I was browsing through the image library at C-MORE, the Center for Microbial Oceanography, Research and Education, and came upon a marvelous collection of microscopy images that gives a hint to the remarkable diversity of the microscopic “animicules” that populate the ocean. They range from phytoplankton, like diatoms, coccolithophores and cyanobacteria, to more complex organisms, like radiolarians, foraminifera and copepods. And in their miniscule diversity, they almost defy belief. Some, like the radiolarians and foraminifera, seem like star bursts in an exploding universe. Others, like the coccolithophores, resemble strange, Rube Goldberg machines.
Such a scrapbook of images goes a long way toward justifying the work at C-MORE, a consortium of research institutions that are trying to survey the biodiversity of the oceans and understand what the diversity means for the rest of the world. I spoke with the founder and director, David Karl, for a Hawaii Business story about research programs at the University of Hawaii. Like van Leeuwenhoek, he marveled at the diversity of microscopic life. “In any drop of sea water, there’s a million microbes,” he said. “Micro-organisms dominate this planet.”
Glancing through these images, it’s clear that it will take generations to understand that domination.