UNC-CH scientist encourages all to watch PBS series on microbes

October 31, 1999

CHAPEL HILL -- Microbes -- those tiny miracle workers that created and sustain all life on Earth -- will be the subject of a four-part television series focusing exclusively on the microbial world and how it affects life on Earth. The hour-long programs will begin Tuesday (Nov. 9) at 8 p.m. on the Public Broadcasting System.

A University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill microbiologist who was intimately involved in designing and producing the series called it "documentary filmmaking at its finest."

"Of course, it's too early to say what's going to happen with the Peabody awards, but people at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting who have seen all four parts say the series could win one of them," said Dr. Frederic Pfaender, professor of environmental sciences and engineering. "The music is all original, and the pictures are spectacular. We think all students and everybody interested in the world around them ought to watch these shows."

Titled "Intimate Strangers: Unseen Life on Earth," the series will air on Tuesdays throughout November, Pfaender said.

Program one, "The Tree of Life," follows the quest of scientists to understand how life on the planet is related. As they map the human genome, they find the ancient DNA of microbes at the roots of the human family tree.

The second program, "Keepers of the Biosphere," shows scientists exploring how humans rely on the invisible world of microbes, which drive the chemistry of life. Program three, "Dangerous Friends and Friendly Enemies," describes what happens when human relationships with microbes change and infectious diseases result.

Program four introduces scientists who are turning to microbes for solutions to problems of the damaged environment and the growing population.

"Microbes generate at least half the oxygen humans breathe and are the basis of the food web that provides everything we eat," Pfaender said. "They live by the trillions in us, on us and around us. They keep us well, and once in a while, they make us sick. They are both supremely important and endlessly fascinating."

The UNC-CH scientist is chair of the American Society for Microbiology's technical advisory committee that conceived and oversaw production of the shows as part of its Microbial Literacy Collaborative. Related projects include a college-level distance learning telecourse and companion books.

More information is available at www.microbeworld.org and www.pbs.org/als .

Support for the documentary, produced by Baker & Simon Associates, came from the society, the National Science Foundation, the Annenberg/CPB Project and the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations.

"We are proud of this work," Pfaender said. "Just about everyone who watches will learn something, and everyone should enjoy watching."
-end-
Note: Pfaender can be reached at (919) 966-3842.
Contact: David Williamson, (919) 962-8596.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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