327 pages, no illustrations
We live in a time of unprecedented scientific knowledge about the origins of life on Earth. But if we want to grasp the big picture, we have to start small – very small. That's because the real heroes of the story of life on Earth are microbes, the tiny living organisms we cannot see with the naked eye. Microbes were Earth's first lifeforms, early anaerobic inhabitants that created the air we breathe. Today they live, invisible and seemingly invincible, in every corner of the planet, from Yellowstone's scalding hot springs to Antarctic mountaintops to inside our very bodies – more than a hundred trillion of them. Don't be alarmed though: many microbes are allies in achieving our – to say nothing of our planet's – health.
In Planet of Microbes, Ted Anton takes readers through the most recent discoveries about microbes, revealing their unexpected potential to reshape the future of the planet. For years, we knew little about these invisible invaders, considering them as little more than our enemies in our fight against infectious disease. But the more we learn about microbes, the more it's become clear that our very lives depend on them. They may also hold the answers to some of science's most pressing problems, including how to combat a warming planet, clean up the environment, and help the body fight off a wide variety of diseases. Anton has spent years interviewing and working with the determined scientists who hope to harness the work of microbes, and he breaks down the science while also sharing incredible behind-the-scenes stories of the research taking place everywhere from microbreweries to Mars.
The world's tiniest organisms were here more than three billion years before us. We live in their world, and Planet of Microbes, at last, gives these unsung heroes the recognition they deserve.
"Anton cleverly choreographs coverage of the personalities of scientists, their research and staggering findings in sync with the astounding opportunism and abilities of the microscopic life forms that fascinate them."
"Earth’s microbial hordes are its dominant life form. A realm that spans the mammalian gut, the ocean floor and the International Space Station is a rich one, and discoveries in it continue to rattle and revivify biology. Anton’s captivating narrative follows the field’s evolution through key findings in symbiosis, archaea and the microbiome by inspired scientists such as Lynn Margulis, Carl Woese, Margaret McFall-Ngai, and Elaine Hsiao. Anton dips, too, into how the findings are influencing diet, agriculture, medicine and environmental sustainability."
"Planet of Microbes is a fascinating journey through one of our least visible and most influential landscapes. Anton makes it an adventure as well, full of all the quirks and wonderful unexpectedness of good science – and good science writing."
– Deborah Blum, author of The Poisoner’s Handbook
"The story of microbes comes to life through vignettes about the eccentric and inquisitive scientists who study them. Anton takes the reader on a romping tour of microbial research, from astrobiology to zoology, and leaves us with a new respect for these tiny creatures."
– Brooke Borel, author of Infested: How the Bed Bug Infiltrated Our Bedrooms and Took Over the World
"Anton shines in his detailing of research that has unveiled the reach and weight of microbes and the chemistry and geology of the ancient Earth."
– Kirkus Reviews
Part One. Out of the Air: Searching for Life’s Origin
Chapter 1. Lightning in the Lab
Chapter 2. The Instigator
Chapter 3. In the Hot Vents with RNA
Chapter 4. Return of the Ancient Ones
Chapter 5. Shooting Stars
Part Two. Turning the Tide: Seeking Better Health
Chapter 6. Killer Membranes: The Labs Where Life Is Made
Chapter 7. Relics of the Deep: Future from the Past
Chapter 8. In the Garden: Microbes, Power, and Health
Chapter 9. Lost City: At the Alkaline Seeps
Chapter 10. Moonlight: Symbiosis, the Squid, and a New Science
Part Three: Microbes and Money: A Sustainable Future
Chapter 11. The Universe Within. A New Microbial Medicine
Chapter 12. Martian Chronicles
Chapter 13. Sustainability. Toward a Microbe Economy
Chapter 14. A River Runs Through It: The Hope and Hype of Microbes
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Ted Anton is professor of English at DePaul University. He is the author, most recently, of The Longevity Seekers and has written for Chicago magazine, the Chicago Tribune, and Publishers Weekly.