I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong (HC/Ecco; HarperAudio; OverDrive Sample) is rising on Amazon after getting the Fresh Air bump, moving from #570 to now sitting firmly within the top 50 at #41.
Host Terry Gross talked with the author, Ed Yong, a writer at the The Atlantic and for National Geographic‘s “science salon,” Phenomena. The early part of the interview is a not-for-dinner-table conversation about fecal transplants and “fake poop.” It then moves to a more wide ranging and fascinating exploration of what the microbiome and its nearly countless numbers do.
One intriguing outtake is the fact that humans have evolved so that the sugars in breast milk feed the microbes in a baby’s stomach, sugars specifically meant for the microbe as the baby cannot digest them. Yong says “So breast milk isn’t just a way of nourishing an infant. It’s a way of nourishing babies’ first microbes. It’s really a way of engineering an entire world inside a baby’s body. You know, breastfeeding mother is a sculptor of ecosystems.”
There is also a microbe called Wolbachia that “allows some caterpillars that eat leaves to stop the leaves from turning yellow. It actually holds back the progress of fall so that … its hosts can have more to eat.”
To close the interview Gross asks Yong what he thinks about now that he knows about the microbiome multitudes and he says,
“all this biology which I thought I knew, all these creatures, these elephants and hawks and fish that I was fascinated by, these things I could see with my eyes, are actually deeply and profoundly influenced by things that I cannot see. And I know that if I go to a zoo now that every animal and every visitor in that zoo is in fact a zoo in its own right.”