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Healthy Reading: Welcome to the Microbiome by Rob DeSalle and Susan L. Perkins.

2 February 2016 - Posted by Kathryn Kos

Welcome to the MicrobiomeDesalle and Perkins wrote Welcome to the Microbiome to give the reader a better understanding of all the different colonies of microbes that live on, in and around us. The authors discuss the function of various microbes and the mechanism by which they interact with us, depending upon their specific “habitat” or community.

The first part of the book discusses our ancestors, diseases, and the history of how we came to understand microbes. It explores the recent paradigm shift in the past year or so, as to how we view the microbial world. Up until recently, we treated all bacteria as “bad” or pathogenic. We are now realizing that there are vast communities of bacteria that have a symbiotic relationship with our body, one in which we need to respect.

The paradigm shift from a focus on single pathogenic organisms to understanding communities of organisms living in and on us has been possible because of a revolution in technology that allows us to “see” the extent of microbial diversity in small niches in and on our body.

Desalle and Perkins discuss how we can sequence our microbes with signatures or barcodes for different species. The microbes on our body change with age and are even different between sexes! These authors identified many of the different communities of microbes that inhabit our body, and teach us just how large and diverse these communities are, as well as the roles they play. They also discuss how our diet and exposure to chemicals can damage these symbiotic communities, and negatively impact our health.

Desalle and Perkins go on to discuss viruses and diseases, how these viruses evolved and developed, and how different species of microbes act together to make us ill. Our bodies have co-evolved to live with microbes, and so have developed some defenses against the ones that have potential to be pathogenic. They take into account the immune system and how our systems evolved to deal with infections over millions of years co-existing with these microbes. This part of the book was interesting and fascinating. We are opening ourselves up to explore a whole new world, and an entirely different paradigm for how we treat viruses and bacteria.

By the end of the book, you begin to look at your body as a complex ecosystem that we have evolved with-rather than just one single organism. Desalle and Perkins passionately teach us how to take better care of our microbes. Overall this was a very informative read, and highly recommended for anyone looking to better understand the human microbiome.

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