Credit Blaser for displaying the wonders and importance of a vast underworld we are jeopardizing but cannot live without.

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MISSING MICROBES

HOW THE OVERUSE OF ANTIBIOTICS IS FUELING OUR MODERN PLAGUES

Infectious disease specialist Blaser makes an impassioned plea for maintaining the biodiversity of the ecosystem that exists in and on our bodies: the human microbiome.

That microbiome consists of 10 trillion bacteria, fungi and viruses, and it’s a life-support system we depend on to metabolize foods, make vitamins, outcompete pathogens and bolster immunity. Blaser claims that we are killing the system with overuse of antibiotics, hand sanitizers and increased cesarean births, which eliminate babies’ baptism by bacteria as they pass through the birth canal. The result is a shrinking of diversity, shifts in the ecosystem and a dangerous rise in antibiotic-resistant pathogens. The author is no foe of antibiotics; indeed, the drugs once saved him from death from typhoid fever. However, he deplores the all-too-easy reach for the prescription pad to treat nonserious (and nonbacterial) runny noses and colds, not to mention the dosing of farm animals with antibiotics to promote rapid growth and weight gain. Blaser concentrates on gut bacteria—the richest sites of human colonization—and uses the example of H. pylori, ancient acid-tolerant stomach bacteria found only in humans, to demonstrate that bugs can play both good and bad roles in human health. Eliminating H. pylori eliminates stomach inflammation (gastritis), ulcers and late-life risk of stomach cancer, but the species also generates hormones, helps regulate inflammation and modulates immune reactions. Blaser also has epidemiological data and intricate animal experiments to back up associations between antibiotics/changed microbiomes and inflammatory bowel disease, Type 1 diabetes, obesity, some cancers and even autism, with the suggestion that there are critical times in early development when even transient use of antibiotics can have lifelong effects. There’s no denying that the diseases Blaser highlights are multifactorial in origin and that the hygiene-hypothesis folks have a point when they declare our hypersanitized world revs up our immune systems to attack us.

Credit Blaser for displaying the wonders and importance of a vast underworld we are jeopardizing but cannot live without.

Pub Date: April 8, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9810-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2014

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY OF PLANTS

A neurobiologist reveals the interconnectedness of the natural world through stories of plant migration.

In this slim but well-packed book, Mancuso (Plant Science/Univ. of Florence; The Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and Behavior, 2018, etc.) presents an illuminating and surprisingly lively study of plant life. He smoothly balances expansive historical exploration with recent scientific research through stories of how various plant species are capable of migrating to locations throughout the world by means of air, water, and even via animals. They often continue to thrive in spite of dire obstacles and environments. One example is the response of plants following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Three decades later, the abandoned “Exclusion Zone” is now entirely covered by an enormous assortment of thriving plants. Mancuso also tracks the journeys of several species that might be regarded as invasive. “Why…do we insist on labeling as ‘invasive’ all those plants that, with great success, have managed to occupy new territories?” asks the author. “On a closer look, the invasive plants of today are the native flora of the future, just as the invasive species of the past are a fundamental part of our ecosystem today.” Throughout, Mancuso persuasively articulates why an understanding and appreciation of how nature is interconnected is vital to the future of our planet. “In nature everything is connected,” he writes. “This simple law that humans don’t seem to understand has a corollary: the extinction of a species, besides being a calamity in and of itself, has unforeseeable consequences for the system to which the species belongs.” The book is not without flaws. The loosely imagined watercolor renderings are vague and fail to effectively complement Mancuso’s richly descriptive prose or satisfy readers’ curiosity. Even without actual photos and maps, it would have been beneficial to readers to include more finely detailed plant and map renderings.

An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63542-991-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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