In the book, ‘’I Contain Multitudes,’’ Ed Yong says human’s complex relationships with the microbial world hold a multitude of wonders. It tells the story of the trillions of microbes that swarm within and around us.
The entire human history is the work of a moment next to the 3 or 4 billion years that microbes, mainly bacteria and their cousins (single-celled eukaryotes and the archea) have ruled the territory. Precedence matters and this is the idea around which multitude.
All the animals and plants with multiple cells that surfaced late in the history of life had to look for a place to live on earth where invisible were settled in every corner. It left them with no choice but to interact both bodily and genetically, and also through by blind thrashing of evolution, with the Earth’s microbiome. Furthermore, we are at present just finding out the astonishing reach of the web of interactions spun from those tumultuous processes.
We are surprised like Huxley on finding out Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection at the obvious and vital central idea. But the idea does not belong to Yong. It surfaced after over a century of research, much of it very new. However, Yong was clever and skillful enough to spin a tale from this huge collection of observations. His tale alters our personal cosmology again. It enlightens us that we are not alone. There are more bacteria in our guts than there are stars in the Milky Way. It compels us to look afresh at the world.
History of Multitudes
The history of multitudes can be traced back to the middle of the 17th century. It was Leeuwenhoek who made a discovery about multitudes with his superior microscope. He found minute animalcules in a drop of pond water. Then, the history alights briefly on the renowned work of Pasteur and Koch. Their theory about germ as a carrier of diseases, still direct most people’s thinking about bacteria.
It came down upon the microbial ecologists of the 20th century to restore bacteria as a normal component of life’s scheme. Many microbes have built symbiotic relationships with their hosts although some microbes are pathogenic and parasitic. With the detailed work of researchers, mainly since DNA sequencing has been added to their toolkit in the 1970s, the richness and intricacy of those relationships have created endless surprises.
Yong’s Stories of Bacteria
The researches serve as a treasure-trove for Yong. He takes out many stories from them and tells how luminescent bacteria colonize and take charge of the growth of organs that emits light in the Hawaiian bobtail squid. He tells how the beewolf wasp spurts its larvae with bacterial paste to give them the defense of antibiotics as they grow into adults.
Yong also talks about how the babies of humans are slathered in mucus infested with microbe as they come out through their mothers’ vagina. There is also a story of how a mother’s milk is formulated. It is not just to feed her baby but to keep bacteria happy too. And another story tells how the microbes residing in its gut could affect the way in which the growing child thinks and behaves.
These are all but some of the natural effects taking place. Since the researchers have got a stronghold on the microbes in the world, they are on a mission to naturally find them new forms of employment. Yong’s stories also include a tale of how frogs in California are being saved by microbial transplants. In Australia, cows are also being allowed to feed on toxic plants.
The book, I Contain Multitudes peered into every microbial niche. It is a book that will change both your view of nature and your sense of where you belong in it and why drinking ZanaJuices rich in microbes can dramatically impact your overall health.