“Everything that you can actually see with your eye is just the smallest sliver of life on this Earth. Most of life is invisible…”

And so begins the exquisite paper-puppetry of Seeing the Invisible, a video by Flora Lichtman and Sharon Shattuck for The New York Times and Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s BioInteractive. This is the story of citizen scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek:

In 1674, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek looked at a drop of lake water through his homemade microscope and discovered an invisible world that no one knew existed. He was an unlikely pioneer — a haberdasher and city official by trade. In this film, we celebrate this 17th-century citizen scientist and a discovery that would ultimately change our view of the biological world, and our place in it.

When it comes to life on earth, we tend to think of ourselves as center stage. But as many microbiologists will tell you, that’s not true. There are 10,000 times more microbes in our intestines than human beings on the planet. Not only are we way outnumbered, these tiny creatures keep us alive, partly by donating genes and proteins that we rely on, scientists say. Also surprising: New studies indicate that their behaviors are more sophisticated than many people suspected. And Leeuwenhoek gave us the first glimpse.

In the archives, watch more cut-paper animations from Lichtman and Shattuck: The Animated Life of A.R. Wallace and Whale Fall (After Life of a Whale).

Thanks, @urbano_pp.

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