Mysteries of the Microscopic World

Join a scientific detective story through a world of wonder with an award-winning professor.
Mysteries of the Microscopic World is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 91.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from This might be my favorite course! I really enjoyed this course. It's title is a little deceiving. It's an excellent course about microbes and how they have affected us over the centuries; the discoveries; the properties and some science behind it all. I found it not only topical in today's covid world, but much more enjoyable than one would expect. Dr. Fleury has done a wonderful job relaying this information. It is more focused on historical significance, and only 2-3 lectures really focus on the more scientific visuals, but I think that is why I enjoyed it so much.
Date published: 2021-06-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from very interesting Dr. Fleury is an excellent teacher. He speaks without notes or teleprompter and seems to have complete knowledge of his subjects. He also adds a bit of humor from time to time.
Date published: 2021-06-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Intersting but history more than science. This course is older but still relevant in regard to Covid-19. I really enjoy this professor. He is interesting and funny. However, as another reviewer mentioned, it is more history than science.
Date published: 2021-05-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Slightly Outdated, Still Very Relevant Having background in chemistry and a good understanding of fermentation microbiology I was looking for an update on microbiology. Dr. Fleury presents both the history of micro-organs on the human body and the discoveries in both biochemistry and microbiology that have helped humans try to stay one step ahead of micro-organs. Thanks to the quality of his presentation, I have been able to take what was presented in this course and apply it to the current situation with Corvid 19. My only wish is that Dr. Fleury would do a short update starting from where he left off thought the present pandemic.
Date published: 2021-02-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent overview I thought the course did an excellent job on outlining the history of co-evolution between microbes and humans as well as giving interesting and entertaining historical facts and episodes. The introduction to the human immune system was particularly interesting to me since it was a complex topic. However, the professor did a good job giving just enough information to not be overwhelming.
Date published: 2021-02-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A fascinating overview Great material to give the viewer an overview of microbes, their impact on humans, and the gradual progress of science in discovering and countering them. One missing piece though was the discovery of viruses (the discovery of bacteria was covered). Perhaps the Great Courses could look at a more in depth microbiology course as a follow up ?
Date published: 2020-07-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating You grow up hearing stories about this stuff, but the presentation here is riveting, the information conveyed stunning. He presents a quiet and ironic sense of humor to keep it lively, no droning lectures for this man. I would highly recommend this course for anyone that would like a better understanding of the microbial world we are immersed in.
Date published: 2020-07-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Lady and the Cats Very interesting course with great historical facts of disease outbreaks. It is also giving me good information to help me understand the present pandemic.
Date published: 2020-06-16
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Travel to the microscopic world and encounter the trillions of bacteria, fungi, and other organisms known as microbes in the 24 lectures of Mysteries of the Microscopic World. In undertaking this journey, guided by award-winning Professor Bruce E. Fleury, you'll learn the powerful role these microbes play in your life, from the bacteria in your stomach that helps you digest, to the pathogens responsible for history's greatest pandemics.


Bruce E. Fleury
Bruce E. Fleury

What made this course special for me was how much I learned in the process of teaching it. You're never too old to learn.


Tulane University

Dr. Bruce E. Fleury (1950–2020) was a Professor of the Practice in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Tulane University. He earned a BA from the University of Rochester in Psychology and General Science and an MA in Library, Media, and Information Studies from the University of South Florida. His career as a college reference librarian led him to Tulane University, where he became head of the university library's Science and Engineering Division. He went on to earn an MS and a PhD in Biology, both from Tulane. Professor Fleury was the author of numerous articles and newspaper columns, both popular and professional, and a reference book on dinosaurs. He taught between 600 and 700 students a year, and his courses included ornithology, introductory general biology and environmental biology, the history of life, and evolution in human health and disease. His teaching awards included two awards for outstanding teaching from the Tulane chapter of the Mortar Board National College Senior Honor Society and a Mortar Board "Last Lecture" Award, in which favorite professors are invited to give a lecture as if it were their last. Professor Fleury served as an advisor for Warner Brothers' space epic Green Lantern, working on several classroom and laboratory scenes and serving as a "consulting xenobiologist" on alien life.

By This Professor

Mysteries of the Microscopic World


The Invisible Realm

01: The Invisible Realm

Step into the hidden world of microbes and learn the challenges and advantages of being small-very small. Microbes live in a realm where water seems as thick as molasses and the smoothest surface conceals a canyon of hiding places. Also see how the geometry of a sphere explains how bacteria survive....

32 min
Stone Knives to Iron Plows

02: Stone Knives to Iron Plows

Turn back the clock to a time when our early ancestors escaped most epidemic diseases. But once we started gathering into villages, raising crops, and domesticating animals, we changed our niche and altered our habitat. Deadly microbes thrived in these new conditions....

32 min
The Angel of Death

03: The Angel of Death

Follow the trail of one of the most infamous microbes of all time, Yersinia pestis, the cause of the Black Death. Like typhus, malaria, and dengue fever, the Black Death is a vector-borne disease-one transmitted from human to human via a host intermediary; in this case, fleas....

28 min
Germ Theory

04: Germ Theory

In the days before the invention of the microscope and the rise of modern medicine, how did people explain a killer plague? Retrace the steps that led pioneers such as Louis Pasteur, Robert Koch, and Ignaz Semmelweis to the startling conclusion that organisms invisible to the naked eye cause disease....

27 min
The Evolutionary Arms Race

05: The Evolutionary Arms Race

In the first of three lectures on the coevolution that shapes our relationship with the microbial world, explore the discovery of antibiotics and the subsequent upsurge in antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, driven by our overuse of drugs that were once a magic bullet against infection....

33 min
Microbial Strategies

06: Microbial Strategies

Probe the different mechanisms that humans have evolved to defeat microbial invaders, and the strategies evolved by microbes to thwart those defenses. For example, our immune system is primed to produce fever and other infection-fighting responses, but many microbes have developed frighteningly potent countermeasures....

30 min

07: Virulence

Virulence is a measure of the effectiveness of a microorganism at killing its victims. Discover that many diseases, such as syphilis, scarlet fever, and diphtheria, have grown less virulent due to competition and coevolution. On the other hand, vector-borne pathogens often succeed by growing more virulent....

29 min
Death by Chocolate

08: Death by Chocolate

Chart the human-created niches where microbes flourish. Trade, travel, and technological innovations provide new opportunities for the evolution or dispersal of pathogens, including Legionnaires' disease in air conditioning systems, toxoplasmosis in kitty litter, and Oropouche fever in fields cleared for the cultivation of cacao, used in making chocolate....

28 min
Bambi's Revenge

09: Bambi's Revenge

Consider more examples of how ecological disturbances, both natural and human-made, can benefit harmful microbes. Thanks to land-clearing and the subsequent explosion in the deer population, Lyme disease now occurs throughout much of the United States. More frightening and deadly, if less widespread, are hantavirus, Lassa fever, and Ebola....

30 min
The Germ of Laziness

10: The Germ of Laziness

The hookworm influenced an early 20th-century stereotype of Southerners as indolent and undernourished, and it may have contributed to the outcome of the Civil War. Chart the war waged against this debilitating parasite by zoologist Charles Wardell Stiles, whose public health crusade helped transform the South....

29 min
The 1918 Flu-A Conspiracy of Silence

11: The 1918 Flu-A Conspiracy of Silence

In the first of three lectures on the deadliest epidemic of all time, meet the virus that caused the 1918 flu, investigating its structure, method of infection, and strategy for evading the human immune system. Also learn where it first appeared and how it mutated into a far more virulent strain....

28 min
The 1918 Flu-The Philadelphia Story

12: The 1918 Flu-The Philadelphia Story

Track the mutated form of the 1918 flu as it reached American shores and killed an estimated 675,000 people out of a population of 105 million. Philadelphia is a horrifying example of the medieval-like conditions that affected a bustling city trying to deal with mass infection and death....

29 min
The 1918 Flu-The Search for the Virus

13: The 1918 Flu-The Search for the Virus

Follow one of the most gripping detective stories of modern times-the search to recover an intact virus from the 1918 flu. Also learn what made the 1918 flu a more powerful killer than the similar strain that attacked in 1976 and 2009....

28 min
Immunity-Self versus Non-Self

14: Immunity-Self versus Non-Self

Given the proliferation of microbes in our midst, why aren't we sick all the time? In the first of six lectures on the inner mysteries of the immune system, see how different cells have evolved to distinguish self from non-self, providing the first line of defense against infection....

29 min
Adaptive Immunity to the Rescue

15: Adaptive Immunity to the Rescue

Delve deeper into the mechanics of adaptive immunity to learn how a few hundred genes can easily make more than 100 million different antigen receptors, specific to any foreign invader that enters the body. Also discover the crucial difference between resistance and immunity....

30 min
AIDS-The Quiet Killer

16: AIDS-The Quiet Killer

In our age-old struggle with microbes, have we finally met our match with AIDS? The HIV virus that causes AIDS takes aim at the very heart of the human immune system. Probe this elegant strategy and learn where and when HIV first appeared, and why it is so lethal....

31 min
The Deadly Strategy of AIDS

17: The Deadly Strategy of AIDS

Explore the frightening scenarios that may yet unfold with the AIDS pandemic. Then follow the slow progress in developing an AIDS vaccine, and consider the policy of deferring questions of sexual morality to focus on preventing spread of the virus at all costs....

31 min
Autoimmunity-Self versus Self

18: Autoimmunity-Self versus Self

Consider what happens when the immune system turns on us, attacking our own cells and tissues as if we were the enemy. Such autoimmune diseases include multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Type 1 diabetes, and lupus. Examine the mysterious causes of this self-destructive reaction....

30 min
Allergies and Asthma

19: Allergies and Asthma

In the closing lecture on the human immune system, follow the microscopic chain of events that lead to allergies and asthma. Peanuts, pollen, bee stings, cat hair-all can cause an overreaction in the immune system, but for different reasons and with results that range from discomfort to death....

30 min
Microbes as Weapons

20: Microbes as Weapons

Investigate the history of microbes as weapons, which dates to the practice of catapulting disease-infected corpses into enemy strongholds. Germ warfare was even used during the American Revolutionary War, but it didn't reach maturity until World War II with Unit 731, the notorious project run by the Japanese....

29 min
Pandora's Box

21: Pandora's Box

As if from Pandora's box, the technology of germ warfare advanced during the cold war to a lethality rivaled only by atomic weapons. Draw back the curtain on the secret American and Soviet projects that perfected this weapon, and learn why biological warfare is the strategy of choice for terrorists....

30 min
Old World to New

22: Old World to New

When European explorers arrived in the New World, they unwittingly brought weapons far more lethal than firearms: namely, microbes, such as smallpox, that the Indians had never encountered. Learn why diseases bred through contact with domesticated animals in the Old World swept through the Americas like the angel of death....

29 min
Close Encounters of the Microbial Kind

23: Close Encounters of the Microbial Kind

Is there life beyond Earth? Space is filled with the chemicals essential for life, but so far only indirect evidence for possible microbial life has been found. Also, look at the microbes that thrive in extreme environments on Earth that may resemble conditions on other worlds....

31 min
Microbes as Friends

24: Microbes as Friends

In this last lecture, consider how the vast majority of microbes are harmless or even beneficial to humans. Microorganisms are responsible for everything from the oxygen in air to yogurt and many medicines. They may even help us clean up our planet, proving that the microscopic world is not always the stuff of nightmares!...

31 min