Another Shar blogging week where Shar has no content. I’m pretty much unable somehow to write pretty much anything book-blog related at the moment. I guess my reading has decreased significantly since starting uni, and I spend my spare time mostly socialising and doing lots (and I mean lots) of activities. I’m not sure how to keep up with blogging or even if I want to. I still feel like a bookish person, but I’m not really reading much. But this blog still means something to me, and I don’t want to give up on it. Argh! Anyway, here’s a review that I’ve scrounged up.
Title: I contain multitudes
Author: Ed Yong
Genre: Popular science non-fiction
I’d been meaning to read this book for ages and ages, because I was convinced I’d love it as soon as I read the blurb. But it took ages for my library hold to come through, and I started it in the middle of exams (note: I am referring to last semester’s exams like 3 months ago) , so it still took me a good few weeks to read.
If you don’t know (and by the way, we have an updated About page, and this fact is on it), I’m studying ecology. This book is all about microbial ecology, and it practically convinced me to switch my degree. It’s basically about all the way microbes are an important part of every ecosystem, and each chapter focuses on a particular aspect of microbial ecology, with specific fascinating case studies based on experiments by leading researchers in the field. I discovered some fascinating things, and I generally enjoyed applying ecological concepts such as ecosystem engineering (some microbes produce vital nutrients that make an ecosystem liveable for all other species) to microbes, when I’ve mostly been learning to do it on very large scales.
I know that science books—even popular science books like this one—can seem a bit scary and dense to the outside observer. Science can often seem scary when you don’t think you’re a science and maths person (although I think everyone can study science), and I know my familiarity with biology (even if it was AP Bio like 2 years ago) helped me to understand this book. But I’m pretty sure it’s well enough explained that you could get the idea without having to know much about biology.
Anyway, here are a few facts I learned from reading this book that you might find interesting too.
- Japanese people are more likely to have a microbe in their stomach that is able to digest seaweed (our normal microbes in our stomachs can’t digest them). These microbes live on live seaweed normally, but back in the day people ate nori raw (instead of roasting them, as is done now), and passed these microbes down to their children.
- People seeking long term solutions for mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue generally just try to kill the mosquitos. But some researchers realized a microbe that lives in insects, called Wolbachia, blocks them from carrying the diseases. It also makes the insects with it more successful than the insects without it when reproducing, so it spreads easily through a population of insects.
- Weird trematode worms that live in deep sea vents don’t actually have stomachs—they instead have microbes living in their digestive systems that synthesise sulfides to make energy.
- Because hospitals are over-sterilised, premature babies often end up with a strange microbiome (microbiome=the group of bacteria that live in our body) that makes it easy for them to get sick later on in life.
- Some squid use microbes that live in their body to produce light so they can’t be spotted by predators when they hunt at night.
- Many other facts that I don’t remember right now.
The main thing I found about this book is that it is fairly dense and academic—I solved this by reading it along with novels—and also mentions a lot of scientists names, half of whom I couldn’t remember. (like, it brought them up once, and then would say something in another chapter like ‘this is similar to what Roberts was studying’ and I was just there like ‘Am I honestly supposed to remember this Roberts human??’)
I also felt like while the balance between a focus on humans and other examples was quite good, there was a bit too much focus on the human gut as opposed to microbes on the skin and such.
Microbes and microbiomes and how they work are fascinating, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It was basically perfect for my ecology loving, biology oriented brain. Five stars.