I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
Every animal, whether human, squid, or wasp, is home to millions of bacteria and other microbes. Many people think of microbes as germs to be eradicated, but those that live with us—the microbiome—build our bodies, protect our health, shape our identities, and grant us incredible abilities. In this astonishing book, Ed Yong takes us on a grand tour through our microbial partners, and introduces us to the scientists on the front lines of discovery.
First of all, kudos for an excellent title, referencing the poetry of Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself. It is not the only literary reference and I truly appreciate that in a science writer.
Yong gives the feeling of being on a safari, observing exotic wildlife. He makes single-celled organisms as interesting as wildebeest and lions. We have come a long way in understanding this part of the ecosystem, and we have miles to go before we perfect that knowledge.
The microorganisms were here first. All of the multicellular animals & plants have evolved in concert with them and it should come as no surprise that we have vast colonies of microbes on us & in us. In fact, they are essential to our proper function—witness the microbe-free mice that researchers have created to experiment with these ideas. Their guts and immune systems don’t function properly and the animals don’t behave like normal animals either.
Before reading this book, I had a much too simplistic view of the human microbiome. Now I know a number of the factors that can influence it (diet & antibiotics are only two of a long list) and that “good” bacteria can do bad things if the system is out of whack (dysbiosis, my new word for the month).
Not to mention cool things like using bacterial infections to control mosquito-bourne diseases!