Behold the microscopic jungle in and around you: tiny organisms living on your cheeks, under your sofa and in the soil in your backyard. We have an adversarial relationship with these microbes — we sanitize, exterminate and disinfect them — but according to microbiologist Anne Madden, they’re sources of new technologies and medicines waiting to be discovered. These microscopic alchemists aren’t gross, Madden says in this TED talk – they’re the future.

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