Friday, July 13, 2012

Allies and Enemies:How the World Depends on Bacteria, by Anne Maczulak

FT Press, ISBN 9780137015467, July 2010

Most of us mainly know about the bacteria that are bad for us--with good reason. Harmful bacteria can be very harmful indeed, so it's natural that they capture most of our attention.

And that's too bad, because harmful bacteria are a tiny minority, and many of the remainder aren't just harmless. They're vital to such basic functions as digesting our food. They play essential roles in making Earth habitable. The earliest bacteria played a crucial role in creating the free oxygen that made life as we know it possible.

And, if that weren't enough, they offer possible solutions to some of the most serious problems that threaten us now, including exhaustion of our fossil fuels, pollution, and global warming.

She also covers some more everyday, yet overlooked, issues. A significant problem facing medicine today is the rise of drug-resistant and antiseptic-resistant disease bacteria. Overuse of antibiotics, in response to patient demands as well as "just in case," and overuse of antiseptics, in hospitals as well as in our everyday lives, where bottles of antibacterial gels seem to be everywhere, have generated variants of disease-causing bacteria that are harder and harder to kill.

This little book has a lot of ground to cover, but Maczulak does so with grace and in clear, readable prose, as well as illustrations that actually illuminate her points. I do think that on some points she has an overly rosy view, particularly of how safe it may really be to release into the environment bacteria that will clean up pollution. However, it's fair to note, also, that she knows a lot more on the subject than I do. Overall, it's an unintimidating way to increase your knowledge in an important area.


I bought this book.

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