Microcosm : E. Coli and the New Science of Life

by Carl Zimmer

Hardcover, 2008

Status

Available

Publication

New York : Pantheon Books, 2008.

Description

"In the tradition of classics such as Lewis Thomas's Lives of a Cell. Carl Zimmer has written an investigation of what it means to be alive. Zimmer traces E. coli's remarkable history, showing how scientists used it to discover how genes work and then to launch the entire biotechnology industry. While some strains of E. coli grab headlines by causing deadly diseases. scientists are retooling the bacteria to produce everything from human insulin to jet fuel." "Microcosm is the story of the one species on Earth that science knows best of all. It's also a story of life itself - of its rules, its mysteries, and its future."--BOOK JACKET.

User reviews

LibraryThing member bragan
Carl Zimmer takes readers in for a close look at the humble, much studied, surprisingly diverse microbe known as E. coli, huge populations of which are living happily inside your gut right now. Which really doesn't sound like an exciting or entirely pleasant subject for a book, but Zimmer truly does portray E. coli as a microcosm of biology as a whole, using it as a central point from which to explore the amazing complexity of cells, the intricacies of evolution, the controversies of genetic engineering, and even (briefly) the possibility of life on other worlds. He does it very well and very clearly, too, which is no mean feat. I took a college class in molecular biology once, and by about the third day I felt like that kid in the Far Side cartoon, the one raising his hand and asking, "May I be excused? My brain is full." But here the reader is given just the right amount of information at just the right times to make it all sufficiently comprehensible.

Don't think of it as just a book about E. coli, though. This really is a book about life.… (more)
LibraryThing member jasonlf
An outstanding book, highly recommended. I loved his Parasite Rex years ago and this is much better than that book -- or at least than my memory of that book. It is an intensive look at E. coli, everything from the details of how we have learned about it, how it functions, how it has evolved, what we understand about it genetics, the role it plays in normal human functioning and human disease, how it is being used to produce new proteins and provide the basis for synthetic life.

All along the way you get to feel like you know E. coli (albeit with a bit too much anthropomorphizing at times) and are getting an illuminating window into a number of subjects, some familiar and some unfamiliar. Much more successful than many "how the tricycle changed the world" types of books.
… (more)
LibraryThing member hailelib
Microcosm is an interesting and fairly up to date look at how and why E. Coli became the 'lab rat' of the microbiologist. Zimmer gives us lots of facts in this easy to read (and understand!) book about E. Coli, evolution, and genetics. I found the anecdotes about the various researchers and their experiments helped enliven the narrative. Recommended for non-microbiologists interested in the life sciences.… (more)
LibraryThing member C4RO
Blimey, my 1995 Biology degree is now a bit dated!- if we knew back then that Shigella is basically E.coli then I didn't remember it before coming across it in this book. I'm not sure I can pick apart how much prior learning helped me find my way around this book. Details such as how restriction enzymes really work, promotor/ supressor and feed-forward loops, even parts of it like knowing about all the different RNA types may have helped a lot. Zimmer writes so very well though that maybe I'm just flattering my memory and instead the credit should go to him for an excellent job. There is lots around the genetics of the bacterium focus here- E. coli- lots of very clear and excellent descriptions of critical experiments and what was found, more than I expected related to evolution- both on the components/ origins of the genes carried (proving Darwin rather than Lamarck where it is random selection, not directed selection; virus and other bacteria origin genes), the rapid life cycles allow evolution process to even be watched as it occurs. There are interesting pieces on the flagellae; I was not aware that creationists had used this feature as a proof of a designer. After evolution there is a long section on the process and ethics of genetic modification; such as growing insulin in large fermenters. The book ends with a short chapter on the searching of other planets and outer space for life. Very detailed, well referenced, well indexed and definitely 5/5.… (more)
LibraryThing member nosajeel
An outstanding book, highly recommended. I loved his Parasite Rex years ago and this is much better than that book -- or at least than my memory of that book. It is an intensive look at E. coli, everything from the details of how we have learned about it, how it functions, how it has evolved, what we understand about it genetics, the role it plays in normal human functioning and human disease, how it is being used to produce new proteins and provide the basis for synthetic life.

All along the way you get to feel like you know E. coli (albeit with a bit too much anthropomorphizing at times) and are getting an illuminating window into a number of subjects, some familiar and some unfamiliar. Much more successful than many "how the tricycle changed the world" types of books.
… (more)
LibraryThing member ogroft
If I had to teach biology, this book would offer an important insight into the history of the field. I could assign portions for students to read about and report on.
LibraryThing member satyridae
Zimmer writes clearly and well. I've been reading his blog for some time and was glad to pick this up when it came out. It's a huge subject, and Zimmer does a fine job of giving enough information about many facets of the science happening around E. coli without swamping one in data. He's engaging and obviously passionate about his subject. I learned a lot about genetic engineering from this book. Highly recommended.… (more)

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