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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Almanac/Teeth Beasties

Air Date: Week of

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This week, we have facts about Antony von Leeuwenhoek. Three hundred and twenty years ago this week, the Dutch naturalist reported discovering a host of "beasties" - that we now know as bacteria - in the plaque between his teeth.


CURWOOD: Welcome back to Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.

[MUSIC: Cliff Martinez “Main Title Theme” SOLARIS (2002)]

CURWOOD: This week in 1683 Antony van Leeuwenhoek first reported seeing microscopic “beasties” in the plaque on his teeth. Today we call them bacteria. These tiny beings astounded the Dutch naturalist and centuries later inspired the same fascination in Harvard undergrad Jonathan H. Esensten.

Mr. Esensten says van Leeuwenhoek also studied plaque samples from men who never brushed their teeth and found a “great company” of wee beings “a-swimming more nimbly” than any he had ever seen.

Esensten: So he thought when they were taken out of the dirty mouths of old men and put into water, then they got excited and started jumping around.

CURWOOD: By profession, van Leeuwenhoek was not a scientist, but his hobby was making microscopes by hand, and his instruments helped scientists see the natural world in a whole new way.

Esensten: Eventually, it would lead people like Pasteur to formulate theories about diseases and the relationship between certain diseases and microscopic organisms.

CURWOOD: Jonathan Esensten, a biochemistry major, was the author of a column last semester in The Harvard Crimson entitled “Cavorting with Beasties.” And yes, he brushes his teeth – twice a day.

And for this week, that’s the Living on Earth Almanac.

[MUSIC: Cliff Martinez “Main Title Theme” SOLARIS (2002)



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