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Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of…

Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life (2008)

by Carl Zimmer

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Referenced in an article by Zimmer in BBC Knowledge magazine about Richard's Lenski's work with E.coli bacteria. He set up 12 identical lines in separate flasks 21 years ago and then watched them evolve. Some really interesting stuff happened including one line's ability to use citrate for sustenance something E. coli could not do. His work is giving the creationists fits because it's living proof of the mechanism of evolution and natural selection.

Full article in Mar/Apr 2009 issue of BBC Knowledge "Evolution in Action"

  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
Microcosm is a history of E. coli but more than that, it’s a history of modern biology. So much of what we do in the lab today depends on these little bacteria that looking at biology through the lens of E. coli lends itself well to discussing almost all of modern microbiology. It also includes a few philosophical musings and, at the other end of the spectrum, some practical insight into the job of a microbiologist.

I picked up Microcosm in part because the description compares the book to Lives of a Cell, which I loved. So when they Microcosm turned out to be less elegantly written, less thoughtful, and clunkier in its transitions from philosophy to real world observations… let’s just say this book and I started out on the wrong foot. Fortunately, the rest of the book, while different from what I expected, was still able to mostly win me over.

Some of the introductory material was explained very well, with analogies that captured the important information without implying anything inaccurate. Although I can’t be sure, I felt like other parts of intro weren’t explained well enough for someone without a science background to pick up on the important things. However (and this is the part that makes this a 4 star reviews) the more cutting edge information and all of the fun facts later in the book were very well done. I already know something about the basics of E. coli and I still learned all sorts of new things about how they function and about how they contribute to science. I also thought it was brilliant and unusual to include some details of the lab work which involves E. coli. For that reason, I would particularly recommend this to someone considering work in microbiology, since it gives some insights into what that’s like.

This review first published on Doing Dewey. ( )
  DoingDewey | Sep 15, 2013 |
When most readers hear the words E. coli, they think tainted hamburger or toxic spinach. Noted science writer Zimmer says there are in fact many different strains of E. coli, some coexisting quite happily with us in our digestive tracts. These rod-shaped bacteria were among the first organisms to have their genome mapped, and today they are the toolbox of the genetic engineering industry and even of high school scientists. Zimmer (Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea) explains that by scrutinizing the bacteria's genome, scientists have discovered that genes can jump from one species to another and how virus DNA has become tightly intertwined with the genes of living creatures all the way up the tree of life to humans. Studying starving E. coli has taught us about how our own cells age. Advocates of intelligent design often produce the E. coli flagellum as Exhibit A, but the author shows how new research has shed light on the possible evolutionary arc of the flagellum. Zimmer devotes a chapter to the ethical debates surrounding genetic engineering. Written in elegant, even poetic prose, Zimmer's well-crafted exploration should be required reading for all well-educated readers. (May 6)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. ( )
  MarkBeronte | Jul 28, 2013 |
Zimmer writes clearly and well. I've been reading his blog for some time and was glad to pick this up when it came out. It's a huge subject, and Zimmer does a fine job of giving enough information about many facets of the science happening around E. coli without swamping one in data. He's engaging and obviously passionate about his subject. I learned a lot about genetic engineering from this book. Highly recommended. ( )
  satyridae | Apr 5, 2013 |
Blimey, my 1995 Biology degree is now a bit dated!- if we knew back then that Shigella is basically E.coli then I didn't remember it before coming across it in this book. I'm not sure I can pick apart how much prior learning helped me find my way around this book. Details such as how restriction enzymes really work, promotor/ supressor and feed-forward loops, even parts of it like knowing about all the different RNA types may have helped a lot. Zimmer writes so very well though that maybe I'm just flattering my memory and instead the credit should go to him for an excellent job. There is lots around the genetics of the bacterium focus here- E. coli- lots of very clear and excellent descriptions of critical experiments and what was found, more than I expected related to evolution- both on the components/ origins of the genes carried (proving Darwin rather than Lamarck where it is random selection, not directed selection; virus and other bacteria origin genes), the rapid life cycles allow evolution process to even be watched as it occurs. There are interesting pieces on the flagellae; I was not aware that creationists had used this feature as a proof of a designer. After evolution there is a long section on the process and ethics of genetic modification; such as growing insulin in large fermenters. The book ends with a short chapter on the searching of other planets and outer space for life. Very detailed, well referenced, well indexed and definitely 5/5. ( )
1 vote C4RO | Apr 17, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 037542430X, Hardcover)

Within days of being born, we are infected with billions of E. coli. They will inhabit each and every one of us until we die. E. coli is notorious for making people gravely ill, but engineered strains of the bacteria save millions of lives each year.

Despite its microscopic size, E.coli contains more than four thousand genes that operate a staggeringly sophisticated network of millions of molecules.

Scientists are rebuilding E. coli from the ground up, redefining our understanding of life on Earth.

In the tradition of classics like Lewis Thomas's Lives of a Cell, Carl Zimmer has written a fascinating and utterly accessible investigation of what it means to be alive. Zimmer traces E. coli's remarkable history, showing how scientists used it to discover how genes work and then to launch the entire biotechnology industry. While some strains of E. coli grab headlines by causing deadly diseases, scientists are retooling the bacteria to produce everything from human insulin to jet fuel.

Microcosm is the story of the one species on Earth that science knows best of all. It's also a story of life itself--of its rules, its mysteries, and its future.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:50:34 -0400)

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"In the tradition of classics such as Lewis Thomas's Lives of a Cell. Carl Zimmer has written an investigation of what it means to be alive. Zimmer traces E. coli's remarkable history, showing how scientists used it to discover how genes work and then to launch the entire biotechnology industry. While some strains of E. coli grab headlines by causing deadly diseases. scientists are retooling the bacteria to produce everything from human insulin to jet fuel." "Microcosm is the story of the one species on Earth that science knows best of all. It's also a story of life itself - of its rules, its mysteries, and its future."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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