Stefanie Tompkins


The Conveyor: 

What exactly is a microbiome? We asked John Spear, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Colorado School of Mines to explain. 

John Spear: 

The world around you is fully alive. If you look at a cubic meter of air in the room that youre breathing right now, there are about 10,000 cells in that air. And if you take a deep breath, you just breathed some of those in. Thats part of the microbiome of the air that you just took your breath from. Same is true for a soil. So it’s all the things that are living in there. A microbiome constitutes all the microscopic things that you can’t see, and it involves life and the three domains of life, which are bacteria, archaea and eukarya. Eukaryotes are like us. They have nucleus with DNA inside the nucleus of the cell. Bacteria and archaea dont, and they are smaller, but I would argue more impactful for what theyre doing for that soil microbiome.  

And the microbiome anywhere inside your body or on a soil or in a rock or in the ocean is providing ecosystem services that are arguably just as important as a forest. Microbiomes make oxygen. They process waste. They detoxify the environment. They make a better water by filtering that water. All those things are playing a role. So the ecosystem services of a microbiome are large, and they are important. And its something that we havent looked at enough.  

To learn more about civil and environmental engineering here at the Colorado School of Mines and our graduate program, visit 

This episode of The Conveyor was produced by Ashley Spurgeon and was hosted and edited by Dannon Cox. 


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About the Podcast

The Conveyor brings listeners insights into the latest research, new discoveries and world-changing ideas from Colorado School of Mines.

The viewpoints and opinions expressed by featured guests do not necessarily represent those of Colorado School of Mines.