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Microcosm: E. Coli and the New Science of Life (Vintage) (original 2008; edition 2009)

by Carl Zimmer

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2481446,284 (4.19)31
Member:C4RO
Title:Microcosm: E. Coli and the New Science of Life (Vintage)
Authors:Carl Zimmer
Info:Vintage (2009), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 256 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:Science, Biology, Read 2010 01

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

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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 | Jun 29, 2014 |
An outstanding book, highly recommended. I loved his Parasite Rex years ago and this is much better than that book -- or at least than my memory of that book. It is an intensive look at E. coli, everything from the details of how we have learned about it, how it functions, how it has evolved, what we understand about it genetics, the role it plays in normal human functioning and human disease, how it is being used to produce new proteins and provide the basis for synthetic life.

All along the way you get to feel like you know E. coli (albeit with a bit too much anthropomorphizing at times) and are getting an illuminating window into a number of subjects, some familiar and some unfamiliar. Much more successful than many "how the tricycle changed the world" types of books. ( )
  nosajeel | Jun 21, 2014 |
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"

References:http://www.actionbioscience.org/evolution/lenski.html
  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 |
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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)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"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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