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May 03, 2000

What can turn milk into cheese, clean up hazardous waste or even cause and cure disease? Microbes are tiny organisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoa that live around you, on you and inside you. Discover the beneficial and harmful effects of microbes and the critical role they play in balancing an ecosystem through the direct links on The Times' Launch Point Web site:

Here are the best sites for getting your schoolwork done or for just having fun.

Level 1

Microbes: Invisible Invaders, Amazing Allies: Did you know that microbes can help fight diseases and that they can even be used to clean up oil spills? View colorful photos and learn interesting facts about both beneficial and harmful microbes.

Kidshealth: What Are Germs? Germs are tiny organisms that cause disease and include bacteria that cause cavities, viruses that cause chicken pox, and fungi that cause athlete's foot. Learn about various types of germs and what they do and find out how you can protect yourself by washing your hands with soap and water.

Stalking the Mysterious Microbe: From agriculture to medicine to pollution control, find out how microbiologists make important contributions and try some experiments such as investigating microbial slime and creating a biosphere in a bottle.

Level 2

Microbe Zoo: A teaspoon of soil can contain more than 1 billion microbes! Discover how microbes are everywhere, including certain beneficial microbes inside us that provide nutrients and help with digestion. Try some experiments and find out how microbes can be used in space missions to recycle wastes and purify the air.

Intimate Strangers: Unseen Life on Earth: Microbes are a crucial part of maintaining an ecosystem. They affect daily life and have roles in food and medicine.

American Museum of Natural History: Infection Detection Protection: Step into the shoes of an epidemiologist and see if you can solve a microbe mystery. This site shows how viruses can travel around the world and how your immune system fights germs.

Level 3

Hidden Killers: Deadly Viruses: Learn about the development of vaccines to combat viral diseases such as Dr. Edward Jenner's work with cowpox and smallpox and Louis Pasteur's development of a rabies vaccine. Find out how viruses work and how the body's immune system functions.

The Wonders of Microbes: Visit the Microbe Portrait Gallery, read about the microbe that fooled the Nazis and learn about the unique features of various types of microbes, from bacteria that can endure blasts of radiation 1,000 times greater than a person can withstand to protists like algae that provide more than 30% of the Earth's atmospheric oxygen.

Microbes in the News: Read about heroic, dangerous, ancient and strange microbes as reported in scientific articles.

Launch Point is produced by the UC Irvine department of education, which reviews each site for appropriateness and quality. Even so, parents should supervise their children's use of the Internet. This column was designed by Barbara Stocker, Robert Sherlock, Marianna O'Brien and Anna Manring.


The answer to this Internet quiz can be found in the sites at right.

What microbe helps bread rise and converts fruit juice into wine?

CLUE: See Microbe Zoo

Find What You Need to Know: Have a project on California history? Need help doing a math problem? Launch Point now covers more than 100 topics for getting your schoolwork done. Go to for the full list of subjects and direct links to the best Internet sites.

Answer to last week's Quest: Cal Ripken's achievement was made possible by his steady excellence, for his .278 career batting average is the lowest of any player to reach 3,000 hits.

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