The field of biology has been wildly successful by taking what's called a reductionist approach, i.e., you tackle a small problem in isolation in order to gain insight into larger questions. In his new book, Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life, Science writer Carl Zimmer took that reductionist approach and applied it to a pretty big issue: life itself. For Zimmer, the system that serves as a model of all life, and of humanity's often uncomfortable relationship to it, is the unprepossessing gut bacteria, Escherischia coli. Covering all of life is a big task, and Zimmer made the challenge that much harder on himself by choosing to target the book to a general audience. Still, he handles the challenge extraordinarily well.
Meanwhile, on other Microcosm fronts...
My interview on This Week In Science is now online here. I jump in at about minute 32:00, but the whole show is worth a listen.
In all this discussion of e coli, I still have seen no explanation of the normal pronunciation of the weirdly spelt main term involved. (Scientists aren't the only specialists who fail to do this, but it happens more often in their field that the pronunciation is hard to predict.)
So what is it? esher-ish-eeya; or eskeriskia? Coal-ee, or coal- I?
Or do Americans pronounce it one way, Brits another and Australians still another, a further common pattern? [quick - duck for cover]