Hello, and welcome to the ScienceBlogs Book Club. This is a ScienceBlogs special feature: an online, round-table discussion of Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life, by Carl Zimmer. Carl will be joined on the blog by three expert guests—Jessica Snyder Sachs, John Dennehy, and PZ Myers.
Microcosm reveals how a common bacterium, most often associated in this country with outbreaks of foodborne illness, has been a scientific workhorse for decades, quietly starring in some of the last century’s most spectacular achievements in biology: the discovery of genes, the understanding of evolution and competition among species, the dawn of genetic engineering and the ethical questions it’s raised, and our efforts to define life itself.
As the panelists discuss the book, you’re invited to add questions and commentary to the ‘comments’ section of posts. The contributors will be reading along and reacting to your thoughts. The result, we hope, will approximate an old-fashioned book club, minus the overcrowded living room.
Before we get started, a bit about the contributors:
John Dennehy is an evolutionary ecologist and a professor at Queens College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Research in the Dennehy lab focuses on the evolution of emerging infectious diseases and the evolution of life history variation using bacteriophages (parasites of bacteria) as model organisms. Dr. Dennehy has published articles in Evolution, Ecology Letters, The American Naturalist and The Quarterly Review of Biology. One of these papers was the subject of a Science Times article by Carl Zimmer. Dr. Dennehy maintains a blog at The Evilutionary Biologist.
PZ Myers is a professor of biology at the University of Minnesota, Morris, where he specializes in evolution and development — the hot new field known as evo-devo, which tries tease apart the complementary interactions of evolution and development. He writes professionally for Seed magazine, where his column focuses on the strange and often counter-intuitive relationships between genes and the dynamic events of development.
He is best known for his weblog, Pharyngula, which Nature magazine called the most popular science weblog on the planet. The weblog is a player in the culture wars, and much of the content addresses creationist claims and also promotes a New Atheist worldview. PZ Myers has been cited and quoted in the fund-raising literature for the Discovery Institute, and along with Eugenie Scott and Richard Dawkins, was one of the featured militant atheists in the new Ben Stein propaganda movie for the Intelligent Design movement, Expelled. PZ likes to think of himself as having a second job as a boogeyman for creationists, and he has lectured all over the country on communicating science, on new revelations in evolutionary biology, and on the hilarious misconceptions of creationists.
Another theme in his writing is an appreciation of the natural world, promoting the value of biological diversity…especially of interesting and exotic invertebrates…and especially molluscs…and especially cephalopods. Rumors of romantic entanglements with nubile squid are, however, entirely false, as he will cheerfully explain in explicit detail and at length.
Jessica Snyder Sachs
Jessica Snyder Sachs is a contributing editor to Popular Science and Parenting magazines and writes regularly for Discover, National Wildlife, and other national publications. Prior to becoming a full-time freelance writer, she managed and edited Science Digest.
Sachs recently published her second book for the general reader, Good Germs, Bad Germs: Health and Survival in a Bacterial World, winner of the Fund for Investigative Journalism’s annual book award. Good Germs, Bad Germs explores our emerging understanding of the bacterial ecosystems that imbue a healthy human body and how their disruption can lead to inflammatory disorders and drug-resistant infections. She continues the discussion on her blog, www.jessicasachs.com.
Jessica’s first book, Corpse, looked at the dynamic ecosystem of insects, plants, and bacteria that colonize the body after death. Subtitled “Nature, Forensics, and the Struggle to Pinpoint Time of Death,” Corpse describes the 200-year pursuit of an accurate postmortem clock and features the casework of the world’s leading forensic entomologists, botanists, and anthropologists.
The New York Times Book Review calls Carl Zimmer “as fine a science essayist as we have.” In his books, essays, and articles, Zimmer reports from the frontiers of biology, where scientists are expanding our understanding of life. He is a frequent guest on radio programs, such as Fresh Air and This American Life. He also lectures regularly at universities, medical schools, and museums.
Zimmer’s books include Soul Made Flesh, a history of the brain; Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea; At the Water’s Edge, a book about major transitions in the history of life; The Smithsonian Intimate Guide to Human Origins; and Parasite Rex.
In addition to writing books, Zimmer contributes articles to the New York Times, as well as magazines including National Geographic, Discover, Scientific American, Science, and Popular Science. He also writes an award-winning blog, The Loom. From 1994 to 1998 Zimmer was a senior editor at Discover, where he remains a contributing editor. He has won fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
He lives in Connecticut with his wife Grace and his children, Charlotte and Veronica.
Please tune back in later today, when we kick off our discusion of Microcosm!