Microbes: The Life-Changing Story of Good Germs and Bad Bacteria

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Microbes: The Life-Changing Story of Good Germs and Bad Bacteria audiobook

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Review #1

Microbes: The Life-Changing Story of Good Germs and Bad Bacteria audiobook free

Microbes: The Life-Changing Story of Germs takes us on a remarkable journey starting from the very origin of life, where microbes (aka germs) were the only inhabitants on the planet for a few billion years before us. They have given rise to, and evolved with all plants and animals, including the sharing of some genetic material. They are part of us, inextricably linked, each depending on the other for survival.

Philip Peterson, MD has spent his career consulting, researching, and teaching in the area of infectious diseases. There is so much fascinating information packed into this book, that it’s hard to decide what to include in this review.

We learn about the origin of life, evolution, microbiology, infectious diseases, history, inventors, and the environment, as well as about our own health: all influenced by tiny creatures that we can’t even see. This story, which has many details, is explained very clearly, often in a personal and conversational tone, without losing any of the scientific information. Microbes will be enjoyed by the non-scientist, as well as by those with a scientific background.

Why are germs so interesting? We usually associate germs with disease. But, there’s a lot more to the story. We learn that only a very few species cause disease. The rest are benign, and, many are necessary for our survival, and to fight off the bad germs that cause disease. Microbes are critical to the health of all ecosystems from living things to the environment, including the health of the oceans. Cyanobacteria were responsible for adding oxygen to Earth’s atmosphere. The total weight of all animals on the planet, is surpassed by the weight of germs; and, the biomass of humans is surpassed by that of viruses. Viruses are not considered to be living, and cannot reproduce on their own. Consisting of a bit of genetic material enclosed within protein, they enter, and then hijack living cells, in order to replicate.

Recent work shows that bacteria are social, smart, live in communities, and form alliances (they have had a long time to figure these things out). They can even sense the conditions of their environment; and can communicate amongst themselves through chemical signals. They are in a constant struggle for survival against competitors.

For thousands of years civilizations have been ravaged by smallpox, influenza, bubonic plague, cholera, yellow fever, tuberculosis, and others, even changing world history. Recent, or emerging infectious diseases, often deadly, are continuing to challenge the world. This is made possible by the rapid transportation of people and food around the world, as well as by human behaviors such as environmental pollution, global warming, deforestation, etc. Although the current pandemic caused by Covid-19 arrived just after this publication, the concepts discussed in Microbes are transferable for an understanding of Covid-19. There is an interesting discussion of the various mechanisms used to defend against infections, including how our amazing immune system functions.

The human microbiome refers to the battlefield where it all happens, the microbes that live on and within our body: gut, skin, respiratory tract, mouth, vagina, in total weighing about 3 pounds; It contains more microbes than our body cells. It starts at birth, and is complete by age 3. Each person’s microbiome is unique, like fingerprints. We have about 23,000 genes, and amazingly, our germs contain about 2-8 million unique genes. “A case can be made that Homo sapiens evolved as a sophisticated transportation system for germs”.

Our gut microbiome contains more that two thousand bacterial species, about 40 trillion bacteria, almost all of which are harmless or beneficial. It is modified by diet, the misuse of antibiotics, age, and other factors. New evidence suggests that bad germs in our gut might be partly responsible for several non-infectious diseases, such as asthma, allergies, and colon cancer. An emerging treatment to restore the state of beneficial bacteria, is a fecal transplant, consisting of good bacteria obtained from a healthy donor. Our skin is the second largest host for microbes, about 1,000 bacterial species, again, mostly harmless or helpful, as in our gut. The skin microbiome is also probably associated with various skin diseases. Mouth germs are also implicated in many diseases.

Antibiotic resistance has become a major concern in infectious diseases, resulting in 23,000 deaths annually in the USA. We learn how bacteria are able to transfer genetic material from one bacterium to another, as part of their struggle for survival, having figured it out for billions of years. We learn about the unnecessary prescribing of antibiotics, and of the administration of antibiotics to livestock. How drug companies do or don’t respond is an interesting discussion. Just a short course of antibiotics might cause a long-term shift in our microbiome.

Even our environment is linked to microbes. Global warming can lead to genetic changes in microbes and promote antibiotic resistance, as well as favoring mosquitoes and tics, which spread infectious diseases. Some microbes are environmentally beneficial in that they produce oxygen, suck up carbon dioxide, and consume pollutants.

The last two topics offer optimism. The first is The One Health perspective: a local, national, and global mandate to achieve optimal health for people, animals, plants, and the environment, all of which are linked. It is multidisciplinary, involving medicine, agriculture, engineering, atmospheric studies, public health, and several other areas. A few of the many important financial supporters are the U.S. CDC, UNICEF, and the World Bank. The second area for optimism involves several exciting new technologies, science, curiosity, and even wisdom, to make for a healthier planet.


Review #2

Microbes: The Life-Changing Story of Good Germs and Bad Bacteria audiobook streamming online

This was an engaging, interesting and fun read on a topic that is sometimes hard to understand for those of us who aren’t scientists. It’s rare to find scientists and physicians who write in a way that the general public can easily understand, but Dr. Peterson makes the subject matter very approachable and relatable through well-crafted storytelling. This is a very interesting and timely book by someone who is clearly passionate about medicine and helping others and the world around us. Definitely worth the read.


Review #3

Audiobook Microbes: The Life-Changing Story of Good Germs and Bad Bacteria by Phillip K. Peterson

The first thing to be said about this book is that it is so well written that you can just relax and concentrate on the information presented. (I am always amazed at how well our American physicians are able to write – but I guess it’s because they have to do 4-year undergraduate degrees before they even get to medical school.)

I was an infectious disease nurse for many years, and appreciated the review of already established information and the new knowledge we now have in this field. (Microbiomes!)

NB: There are a few very moving paragraphs at the end of one chapter, just before the book was published, in which Dr. Peterson writes about a “new virus” in China which has also just made its way into the US (early 2020)…I got chills reading it. But I am sure that the excellent infectious Disease dept. at the University of Minnesota, where Dr. Peterson worked for so many years, has been focusing for months now on this pathogen (as have we all).


Review #4

Audio Microbes: The Life-Changing Story of Good Germs and Bad Bacteria narrated by Mike Lenz

Microbes: The Life-Changing Story of Germs is a comprehensive overview of microbes and their interactions with humans (good, bad, and everything in between) written by an expect for the layman. The tone is light-hearted and sprinkled with the occasional Dad joke pun.

The first section discusses the evolution of microbes and where they fit into the tree of life, as well as the benefits they have for humans. The next section focuses on microbes that cause individual illness, sometimes leading to epidemics or a pandemic (e.g. Ebola, etc.) Lastly, the author discusses established and in development uses for microcrobes in treating diseases and other illnesses. This fascinating discussion ranges from vaccines to fecal transplants

This book was published at an unfortunate time. The draft was finalized in 2019, so the only mention of COVID-19 (though other coronaviruses are discussed) was a brief section added during the copy editing process. At that time, COVID-19 seemed limited to Wuhan and China was going into lockdown, so the author declared the response to be very swift. Just goes to show that no one can predict the future! It would be nice to see a new edition of this book with a section added about COVID-19.


Review #5

Free audio Microbes: The Life-Changing Story of Good Germs and Bad Bacteria – in the audio player below

Microbes introduces the reader in a conversational style to the multitude of other denizens of our planet- some nefarious and plenty more that are our greatest benefactors!
Dr.Petersons reflections on our fate and their resourcefulness will make you realize what a chancy business our lives are but he ends with guarded optimism.
This book is a must read for anyone interested in knowing the magnificent achievements of microbiological scientists and their intellectual and laboratory challenges. five stars


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