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'Germ' exhibit invades Natural History Museum

staff report • Sep 24, 2011 at 11:33 AM

A new traveling exhibition that takes visitors on an interactive journey through the hidden world of microbes has invaded the Tri-Cities.“Microbes: Invisible Invaders … Amazing Allies” will be on display at the East Tennessee State University and General Shale Brick Natural History Museum and Visitor Center at the Gray Fossil Site through May 6, 2012. It is sponsored nationally by Pfizer Inc. and produced by Evergreen Exhibitions in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health. The local sponsor is Dex.The larger-than-life-sized, interactive exhibit uncovers a mysterious universe of microscopic organisms, from those that sustain life on Earth to those that threaten the health — and even the existence — of humans. It reveals what microbes are (bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoa … or “germs” to most people), explores a history of infectious diseases and shows how researchers and individuals fight infection worldwide.Kid-friendly technology highlights hands-on activities. In addition to interactive displays featuring virtual reality and 3-D animation, theatrical sets and special effects bring microbes to life.“The exhibit separates fact from fiction about microbes,” according to officials with Pfizer Inc. “By understanding how microbes can hurt us and also how they help us, families can make smarter choices about their health and learn about the strides we’re making in research to stay one step ahead.”The smallest forms of life on Earth are microbes. Although microbes have existed for millions of years, possibly billions, their presence was not detected until the 17th century. In 1683, Dutch merchant Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, who made microscopes as a hobby, detected “wee animalcules” in scrapings from his teeth. More than 200 years would pass before scientists would establish the relationship between microbes and disease.“Microbes” delves into both the history and the science of some of the smallest organisms on Earth, and covers the important discoveries of vaccines and antibiotics, such as penicillin.According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a component of the NIH, infectious diseases remain the leading cause of death worldwide and the third-leading killer of North Americans. More than 30 newly recognized infectious diseases and syndromes have emerged in the last two decades alone.Another challenge has been the development of drug-resistant strains of many common infections, making them increasingly difficult to treat and requiring ongoing medical research.Related lectures and educational programs for both children and adults will be scheduled throughout the duration of the exhibit. Visit the museum’s website, www.grayfossilmuseum.com, for dates.The museum is open 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m., seven days a week.An all-access pass, which includes a self-guided museum pass and tour of the Gray Fossil Site, is $10 for adults, $9 for seniors, $7 for children 5 and older; and $5 for ETSU students with ID.For more information, call (866) 202-6223.

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