The Invisible Kingdom, a book about microbes

Invisible-Kingdom I enjoyed this lighthearted insider's guide to germs called The Invisible Kingdom: From the Tips of Our Fingers to the Tops of Our Trash, Inside the Curious World of Microbes.

Author Idan Ben-Barak describes microbes that live in hotter-that-boiling-temperature water, inside rocks, and in and on your body (you've got between two to four pounds of microbes hitching a ride with you). He explains how diseases are transmitted, why germs make us sick, and why the cure for a cold is a long way off ("the common cold is not really a disease. It is a general name for a collection of symptoms that can be caused by over a hundred types of viruses from several different families.")

I'd love to shrink down to microscopic size to see some of the odd lifeforms described in this book. Pilobolus crystallinus is a fungus that lives in cowpatties and propagates by turning into a water cannon to shoot spores onto nearby grass, so cows will eat them and crap them out someplace else. Myxococcus xanthus uses a pushing-motor and a pulling-motor to move over soil. And Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus, which preys on other bacteria, rams into its quarry to kill it, then uses the materials to produce offspring. 

I was glad the book was under 200 pages, but it left me hoping Ben-Barak will write a follow up book about microbes that drills a little deeper in a specific topic, such as antibiotics and disease resistance.

The Invisible Kingdom: From the Tips of Our Fingers to the Tops of Our Trash, Inside the Curious World of Microbes


  1. Yay Bdellovibrio! Although it doesn’t actually just “ram” into other cells — it actually invades their periplasmic space where it divides before bursting out. It is normally classified as a “predator” bacterium, but it actually acts more like an “alien” (cue rimshot)

    I’m actually going to be sequencing a number of isolates of predatory bacteria related to Bdellovibrio later this year, so I’m pretty psyched about them.

  2. Ah yes: one is never alone. One always has one’s microbes along for the ride, on the skin and in the gut.
    You are your own ecosystem…

  3. Hooray for Bdellovibrio! Whenever I’m asked what my favorite microbe is (and you’d be surprised how often that particular question pops up in my case) I describe this guy. Usually, when I get to the part about where it devours the host microbe’s insides, the asker slowly backs away. I’m starting to think I should ease up on the graphic details.

    Mark, thanks for the review. Glad you liked it.

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