We're not exactly sure when it happened, but somewhere between
"Ren and Stimpy" and the "Ugly Doll" craze, someone decided that
gross is cute. Stuffed versions of microscopic creatures that
make us sick are one part of this "Blech Is Beautiful" movement.
Giant Microbes started producing plush versions of infectious
diseases in 2002. The Delaware outfit started out with a line of
common germs that had relatively simple shapes: Brightly colored
fur and big shiny eyeballs made round stomachache and flu toys
More recent creations tackle stranger-looking critters, from the
tied-in-a-knot shape of the Ebola virus to the corkscrew-like
syphilis bacterium. A colony of round algae cells comes stitched
together in a filament, and Giardia is complete with waving
Although the microbes are sold as teaching tools (especially the
high-profile diseases, including HIV and TB, that are sold in the
company's "professional" line), the company isn't above a healthy
bit of personification. The flesh-eating bacterium is embroidered
with a tiny knife and fork, the sleeping-sickness protozoan looks
at you through heavy lids and a coquettish "kissing disease
virus" looks to have applied some heavy-duty mascara.
Our only criticism is that, technically, not all of the Giant
Microbes offered are actually microbes - which are generally
defined as microorganisms that are too small to be seen with the
naked eye and, often, in definitions, that are harmful to humans.
Nitpickers will note that viruses, though sufficiently tiny, are
not actually living organisms. We're not nitpickers - wouldn't go
that far. But red and white blood cells, though small enough,
aren't independent critters at all, just cells inside us. Fleas?
These are often big enough to see without a microscope. And
calling a mosquito a microbe is definitely a stretch.
On the subject of plagues and pestilences: A recent book, Dr.
Sharon Moalem's "Survival of the Sickest," hypothesizes that some
microbial parasites thrive in the fight for evolutionary
supremacy because they actually confer small benefits, and thus
become valuable, to the people they infect.
If microbes can get us to buy stuffed versions of themselves to
give as gifts, they may already have won.
Giant Microbes roster:
How to keep real bacteria off your stuffed bacteria: