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How Antoni van Leeuwenhoek discovered bacteria in the 1670s

Today's Google Doodle celebrates the 384th birthday of Dutch tradesman Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, the first human to observe microbes. You can see his fascinating story in our video above, recounted by Ed Yong, author of I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within us and a Grander View of Life.

Leeuwenhoek wasn't a trained scientist, but he made his mark on the history of biology by creating lenses powerful enough to observe what no person had before: red blood cells, sperm cells, protozoa, and bacteria. He exhibited an exceptional curiosity, which drove him to probe his family, his friends, and his own body in pursuit of the tiny but incredibly important world of single-celled life.

Humans will probably always underappreciate the microorganisms that live inside us and all around us, but the truth is that we live in their world. Not only did our evolution depend on an environment that microbes created, but microbes continue to influence our health in countless ways.

"Right from the start, we would have been surrounded by microbes, filled by microbes. Of course, we needed to evolve ways of negotiating with them, ways of exploiting the molecules that they were already putting out in the environment, of learning to learn in symbiosis with them," said Yong.

Scientists are still uncovering how the microbes first observed by Leeuwenhoek interact with human cells to help and harm our bodies. As DNA sequencing technology invigorates the study of the human microbiome, we take a look at the first tool ever used to study microbes: van Leeuwenhoek's tiny homemade microscopes.

Check out the video above to learn how Leeuwnehoek became the first human to lay eyes on single-celled organisms.

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