Welcome to the Microbiome is at the top of my list of recommended books about the human microbiome. Written by scientists and museum curators, Dr. Susan Perkins and Dr. Rob DeSalle to accompany the American Museum of Natural History’s microbiome exhibit “The Secret World Inside You”, Welcome to the Microbiome, introduces readers to not only to the human microbiome, but also to the science behind the research. It is aimed at people interested in the process and findings of the newly emerging field of microbiome biology and its importance for human existence and health. This book introduces anyone interested in basic cell biology, genomics, and microbiology to these subjects while weaving stories about human-microbiome interactions.
Good Microbiome “Crash Course”
Welcome to the Microbiome, is chock-full of fabulous stories about the human microbiome. Like many other recent books, such as the Good Gut, Missing Microbes, and Rob Knight’s TED talk book – Follow Your Gut, human microbiome stories are put into a larger context of the environment, today’s lifestyle choices, and health. Welcome to the Microbiome is unique in that it gives readers a scientific background to understand the stories and covers a diversity of human microbiomes in addition to the gut microbiome most other microbiome books focus upon.
What is unique about Welcome to the Microbiome is that the first few chapters give a reader crash courses in introductory biology and microbiology. I found this background refreshing since it empowers readers to better understand how microbiome stories are put together and what it means in a greater scientific context. Popular articles and other books about the microbiome give the findings and author’s interpretations, but don’t go through why or how the scientists reached their conclusions. Considering the increase in citizen science microbiome projects and public interest, understanding the science underlying human microbiome research is important as people examine their own data.
The first 2 chapters mirror an introductory biology class. They include topics such as how proteins are made from DNA, how cells function, and fundamental concepts in genetics in an engaging way. If it’s been a while since you’ve had general biology or microbiology as an undergraduate or never taken such classes, the first two chapters will give you a background that will help you understand microbiome science, as well as other biology and genetics.
The remaining chapters are primers about the human microbiome. They explore the basic biology underlying microbiome science, how microbiome findings have changed the way we think of human health, and how we interact with microbes. These include discussions of the microbial ecology that has really changed the way people think about microbe-animal interactions.
While I think Welcome to the Microbiome is fantastic and unique in that it provides crash courses to help the reader better understand microbiome science, it could go one step further. Walking citizen scientist readers through the different kinds of figures and ways that microbiome scientists present their data would be helpful. Readers of Welcome to the Microbiome may read the primary microbiome literature or have had their own personal microbiomes by the American Gut project, Private Biome or µBiome. Understanding the data delivered from these citizen science microbiome projects is not always clear to the consumer, so an additional chapter would have been the icing on the cake. That being said, it was quite a filling and tasty “cake” as it is.
Within the university system, Welcome to the Microbiome would be an excellent book to use in an undergraduate course focused on the microbiome or accompanying a seminar course on the primary literature. Outside academia and in addition to individual readers, I could see Welcome to the Microbiome being read for book clubs associated with some of the public science spaces, like the Baltimore Under Ground Science Space, we have in Baltimore. Of course, coupling reading this book with a visit to AMNH’s “The Secret World Inside You” is ideal. It was certainly worth our trip!
What do you think?
Have you read Welcome to the Microbiome or visited “The Secret World Inside You”?
Let me know in the comments section below or send an email to mostlymicrobes at gmail dot com.