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Planet of Microbes: The Perils and Potential of Earth's Essential Life Forms

by Ted Anton University of Chicago Press
Pub Date:
Hbk 288 pages
AU$49.99 NZ$52.17
Product Status: In Stock Now
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We live in a time of unprecedented scientific knowledge about the origins of life on Earth. But if we want to grasp the big picture, we have to start small—very small. That’s because the real heroes of the story of life on Earth are microbes, the tiny living organisms we cannot see with the naked eye. Microbes were Earth’s first lifeforms, early anaerobic inhabitants that created the air we breathe. Today they live, invisible and seemingly invincible, in every corner of the planet, from Yellowstone’s scalding hot springs to Antarctic mountaintops to inside our very bodies—more than a hundred trillion of them. Don’t be alarmed though: many microbes are allies in achieving our—to say nothing of our planet’s—health.


In Planet of Microbes, Ted Anton takes readers through the most recent discoveries about microbes, revealing their unexpected potential to reshape the future of the planet. For years, we knew little about these invisible invaders, considering them as little more than our enemies in our fight against infectious disease. But the more we learn about microbes, the more it’s become clear that our very lives depend on them. They may also hold the answers to some of science’s most pressing problems, including how to combat a warming planet, clean up the environment, and help the body fight off a wide variety of diseases. Anton has spent years interviewing and working with the determined scientists who hope to harness the work of microbes, and he breaks down the science while also sharing incredible behind-the-scenes stories of the research taking place everywhere from microbreweries to Mars.


The world’s tiniest organisms were here more than three billion years before us. We live in their world, and Planet of Microbes at last gives these unsung heroes the recognition they deserve.



Part One. Out of the Air: Searching for Life’s Origin

Chapter 1. Lightning in the Lab

Chapter 2. The Instigator

Chapter 3. In the Hot Vents with RNA

Chapter 4. Return of the Ancient Ones

Chapter 5. Shooting Stars


Part Two. Turning the Tide: Seeking Better Health

Chapter 6. Killer Membranes: The Labs Where Life Is Made

Chapter 7. Relics of the Deep: Future from the Past

Chapter 8. In the Garden: Microbes, Power, and Health

Chapter 9. Lost City: At the Alkaline Seeps

Chapter 10. Moonlight: Symbiosis, the Squid, and a New Science


Part Three: Microbes and Money: A Sustainable Future

Chapter 11. The Universe Within. A New Microbial Medicine

Chapter 12. Martian Chronicles

Chapter 13. Sustainability. Toward a Microbe Economy

Chapter 14. A River Runs Through It: The Hope and Hype of Microbes




Remote Probes






Ted Anton is professor of English at DePaul University. He is the author of several books and has written for Chicago magazine, the Chicago Tribune, and Publishers Weekly.