Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics is Fueling Our Modern Plagues by Martin J. Blaser – Review

Cover- Missing Microbes

Published: February 6, 2014

Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.

Genre: Non-Fiction

Pages: 273 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 5.0/5.0

Synopsis:

A critically important and startling look at the harmful effects of overusing antibiotics, from the field’s leading expert

Tracing one scientist’s journey toward understanding the crucial importance of the microbiome, this revolutionary book will take readers to the forefront of trail-blazing research while revealing the damage that overuse of antibiotics is doing to our health: contributing to the rise of obesity, asthma, diabetes, and certain forms of cancer. In Missing Microbes, Dr. Martin Blaser invites us into the wilds of the human microbiome where for hundreds of thousands of years bacterial and human cells have existed in a peaceful symbiosis that is responsible for the health and equilibrium of our body. Now, this invisible eden is being irrevocably damaged by some of our most revered medical advances—antibiotics—threatening the extinction of our irreplaceable microbes with terrible health consequences. Taking us into both the lab and deep into the fields where these troubling effects can be witnessed firsthand, Blaser not only provides cutting edge evidence for the adverse effects of antibiotics, he tells us what we can do to avoid even more catastrophic health problems in the future.


First of all, as I’m sure my regular readers have noticed, non-fiction is not my usual genre. I’ve been wanting to read Missing Microbes for quite some time now and found it for $2.99 on BookOutlet (and did a happy dance), so of course I bought it. I took a micro course in college and did a pretty cool project studying the microbes found on the skin of salamanders, so microbiology has a special place in my heart and I’ve been wanting to get back into some of the scientific literature. Missing Microbes is definitely not a profession journal article, but it is a great way to learn some facts, get a civilian version of the research and results, and spark a whole boatload of interest. Besides, it makes for great cocktail conversation if that’s your type of thing (not mine).

The book focuses on both the benefits of microbes that naturally dwell in and on the human body as well as the effects of antibiotics on the human and the microbial communities therein. The author, Martin Blaser, is an M.D. who studies the role of bacteria in human disease- specifically he is a specialist on Salmonella. There is a whole host of interesting and exciting information contained within the pages of this book… so turn to page 394… Just kidding, it’s not actually that long. The first really interesting bit that I came across was on the bane of childhood, a.k.a strep throat. It turns out, antibiotics are prescribed to strep patients, not because it really helps you get over any faster, but because it helps prevent the development of rheumatic fever (Blaser, 69). It’s also very common to have your sore throat misdiagnosed as being caused by strep due to the fact that the Streptococcus pharyngitis is a regular colonist of the human throat, especially in the winter months (Blaser, 69).

Another of the points that I found to be of particular interest was that antibiotics can cause weight gain. This is one of the biggest reasons that antibiotics are given to livestock- easy way to get more weight on your livestock, which leads to more money. There were several studies done in the Blaser lab that focused on the weight gain and body composition of mice, which were given antibiotics in different amount, lengths of time, etc. The mice given antibiotics, especially early in life, had significantly more body fat than those that didn’t. The studies of course were much more complex and detailed than I’ve just described, but it took fifteen pages to describe the basics in the book. This information could easily translate from mice to humans, so definitely something to consider.

Overall, I’d highly recommend this book for anyone that has an interest in biology, medicine, non-fiction… well, just whoever really. I’ve recommended it to several people already and I think a waiting list might be forming to borrow my copy of the book. It’s got about 30 pages of citations and references in the back, so if you’ve read it and want to find the original literature, you should be able to. I recommend Google Scholar for this task, as it can be a bit difficult to find these papers otherwise. Hope you all enjoy!

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