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I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us…

I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life (2016)

by Ed Yong

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This is a fascinating look at what we currently know about how animals and plants interact with the microbes all around us. This is still a very young field, and there is a lot to learn. Yong writes with clarity and humor, so this is a very enjoyable and enlightening read. ( )
  Gwendydd | May 10, 2018 |
In case you were unaware, we are never alone.

The fact we are our own ecosystems can be distressing to some, especially after we've been taught that cleanliness is next to godliness. However, a rich realization lies in recognizing we're also our own islands, that we form microbe archipelagos with the people we live with, and that released introductions from islands with nearby fauna may be the key to healing those with collapsed microbial ecosystems.

Ed Yong delved into this topic three years ago on the TED stage, though in that talk he focused more on microbial manipulation via Wolbachia and Toxoplasma to affect the behavior and biology of hosts. Bacterial control of multicellular organisms can be terrifying... or extremely fascinating, and I'm the latter. There are so many interesting research questions that have yet to be explored regarding the relationship between different microbes, the microbes and host, what the behavior influence is caused by, etc. The multitude of mysteries is almost enough to make me want to go back into academia after leaving it... *almost*. Luckily, if I ever did, the microbiome still seems to be the sexy science topic du jour and we still don't know much about it.

Besides covering a fascinating topic, Ed's writing is sharp, clear, and enjoyable to read. He's long been one of my favorite science writers at his Not Exactly Rocket Science blog (moving between an independent site, the early-but-influential ScienceBlogs network, Discover, and National Geographic over the past decade before ending earlier this year), and still writes great long-form pieces over at The Atlantic. After some mid-2000s grumbling about whether or not blogs were a threat to journalism, it is extremely gratifying to see in the 2010s, the definition between who is a blogger and who is a journalist have blurred and that yes, some can even make the jump to the longest form writing of all- books.

A sidenote: I recently finished my masters in a lab that is heavily focused on symbiosis and evolution at different levels (my PI's previous work involves competing mitochondrial genomes; others in the lab work on anemone-algae relationships and the interaction between Wolbachia and plant-parasitic nematode), so I did come to this book with some prior knowledge. It's a little weird when reading and then coming across the name of a biologist I follow on twitter (John McCutcheon! Katie Hinde!) or a friend's PI (Rebecca Vega-Thurber!) The world may seem big, but Twitter makes it smaller and as you read, check to see if the referenced scientist is online- @ ing them is a great way to show an interest in their work because often, it feels like the only other people reading are those in the research community. ( )
2 vote Daumari | Dec 30, 2017 |
Lots of interesting facts but in such a big pile I stopped absorbing them after a while.

Kind of like a mat of bacteria... ( )
1 vote chelseaknits | Dec 14, 2017 |
Always interesting and occasionally elegant or laugh-out-loud funny. Highly recommended. ( )
2 vote 2wonderY | Oct 17, 2017 |
A very readable summary of the most recent studies into the interactions of microbes with the rest of life illustrating their ubiquitous nature, often benefitting, sometimes harming. ( )
  snash | Oct 4, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
Ed Yong is a talented British science writer, a staff writer for The Atlantic and the author of a wonderful blog, Not Exactly Rocket Science, hosted by National Geographic. “I Contain Multitudes,” his first book, covers a huge amount of microscopic territory in clear, strong, often epigrammatic prose. Yong has advanced degrees in biology, and he is remarkably well informed; he includes descriptions of many studies that are still unpublished, and even a few original ideas for new experiments. He is infectiously enthusiastic about microbes, and he describes them with verve.
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Baba does not flinch.

Prologue : A trip to the zoo.
The Earth is 4.54 billion years old.

1. Living islands.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0062368591, Hardcover)

Joining the ranks of popular science classics like The Botany of Desire and The Selfish Gene, a groundbreaking, wondrously informative, and vastly entertaining examination of the most significant revolution in biology since Darwin—a “microbe’s-eye view” of the world that reveals a marvelous, radically reconceived picture of life on earth.

Every animal, whether human, squid, or wasp, is home to millions of bacteria and other microbes. Ed Yong, whose humor is as evident as his erudition, prompts us to look at ourselves and our animal companions in a new light—less as individuals and more as the interconnected, interdependent multitudes we assuredly are.

The microbes in our bodies are part of our immune systems and protect us from disease. In the deep oceans, mysterious creatures without mouths or guts depend on microbes for all their energy. Bacteria provide squid with invisibility cloaks, help beetles to bring down forests, and allow worms to cause diseases that afflict millions of people.

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. It will change both our view of nature and our sense of where we belong in it.

(retrieved from Amazon Sun, 05 Jun 2016 14:21:18 -0400)

This book lets us peer into the world of microbes -- not as germs to be eradicated, but as invaluable parts of our lives -- allowing us to see how ubiquitous and vital microbes are: they sculpt our organs, defend us from disease, break down our food, educate our immune systems, guide our behavior, bombard our genomes with their genes, and grant us incredible abilities. While much of the prevailing discussion around the microbiome has focused on its implications for human health, Yong broadens this focus to the entire animal kingdom, prompting us to look at ourselves and our fellow animals in a new light: less as individuals and more as the interconnected, interdependent multitudes we are. I Contain Multitudes is the story of extraordinary partnerships between the familiar creatures of our world and those we never knew existed. It will change both our view of nature and our sense of where we belong in it. --… (more)

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