Welcome to the Microbiome [Book Review]

Note: I know I wanted to write more about technology, but I do enjoy reading a lot. So the book review (what is it, book #3 now) habit is a nice compromise between itching my reading desire and writing about something technical. Next book will definitely NOT be biology based. I promise

The microbiome was something that I heard of, but I never really thought too much about it till I was a “microbiology club” in college [trust me, we didn’t do much]. I attended a small conference where the main speaker was working on a new technique: fecal transplants. Very fascinating topic, mostly because it’s a positive method using poop!

The idea goes as follows. The human body is a collection of cells, Eukaryotes (us). Inside our digestive track, mostly the small and large intestines, addition single-celled living organisms (them = eukaryotes, bacteria, archaea ….. I believe that’s all of them (you know, till microbiologist decide to reclassify the tree of life again)). There’s a 1 to 10 ratio (or something crazy) of cell counts between us and them. Some are unwanted, but most of “them” are in a mutual relationship with us, and sometimes they are beneficial.

This book ” Welcome to the Microbiome,” by Rob DeSalle & Susan Perkins, talks about that….. and then some more. Microbes live everywhere on your body. There’s an entire chapter on the microbes on your skin alone (which is still boring, by the way). Would I recommend the book?

First off, it’s a biology book. This work has a strong academic feel to it (almost like an extensively long undergraduate college project/research report), where they discuss more  about the experiments and less on long drawn-out results and applications. For example, there’s a study on Roller Derby girls. But first they discuss what Roller Derby is (2 page, felt kind of side tracked). Then they discuss the the research (2-3 pages) on what they did, then conclude (2 pages with a graph) that girls touching each other result in the spreading of germs between groups (obviously).

There are illustrations to help with the progression through the book, but it is still fairly dry. Anyone with a decent biology background (including myself) could skip the first chapter without missing much (which I did halfway). And the second chapter. And the third chapter was fairly bland (bacteria on skin), so skip that one while you are at it.

It doesn’t really get interesting till you get past the first half of the book; microbes inside your body! But it’s still strongly academic, which drags the book down. PLEASE, just state the results, cite where you can find the study details with a tiny number, and extrapolate the conclusions! Get me excited. And they didn’t even talk about poop transplants!

Note: Yes, I did talk about how you should be wary of how biology studies are done. But I do believe that verifying good studies is the author’s job. Removing the dead weight helps with the story, and keeps the audience hooked.

Chapters 4, 5, and 6 discuss microbes inside our bodies. General description of mouth/intestines/genitals, how they deal with our immune system, and what is considered healthy. Bacteria create layers (microfilms), and microflora show correlation to STD testing, sickness, and obesity (what a fun subject). However, the book doesn’t clearly state what caused what. Did the diet change the diversity of bacteria? Does the diversity change bacteria cause you to gain weight?

I DID learn about bubble mice though! To study sterile mice (w/o bacteria in their systems), we must first acquire them by either birthing C-sectioned mice with a sterile suction cup (truly sterile) or we give them a quadruple dose of antibiotics (pseudo). Spoiler alert, the mice without bacteria don’t cope with changes in their environment as well as their normal counterparts.