“Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes”

I just stumbled across a NY Times article about a children’s book by Nicola Davies by the title Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes. The article and the quotes from the book make me both excited and optimistic for how microbes are portrayed. A huge problem I have found in talking to non-microbiologists about microbiology is that there is a stark focus on pathogens; despite the fact that most microbes are beneficial and necessary for human life. If the general perception of these “tiny creatures” is changed, subjects like antibiotic resistance and microbes in the built environment will become way easier to talk about. There are many studies that come across some microbe that sounds alarming to have in one’s home, but is actually completely harmless. For instance, most E. coli are non-pathogenic and even beneficial, but if you tell someone there is E. coli in their toilet they might assume the worst. Really though, E. coli is expected in a toilet since it lives in the gut, and is most likely not the pathogenic strain.

By changing public misconceptions of microbes, we can move towards solving problems with over-sanitation in the built environment and start to explore interesting questions about non-pathogenic microbes. This children’s book is an example that gives me hope that this is possible, especially with regards to the young and impressionable minds of those reading it.

5 thoughts on ““Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes”

  1. This book arrived just a few days ago and it has already been read at least 15 times. I’m admittedly a bit biased, but I think it is great that my daughter (4 yrs old) is so excited about a ‘microbe book’. Even better, she is now proud to say ‘my daddy studies microbes’ (or ‘my daddy studies dirt’).

    The authors do an excellent job highlighting that not all microbes are ‘germs’. Great illustrations and touches on the main concepts in microbiology that I also cover in my gen. micro. class for undergrads – maybe I should include it as assigned reading (ha! – only kidding – somewhat…).

    What can I say? – I’m a fan. I’ll be stocking up on a few copies for upcoming baby showers. Nothing says ‘welcome to the world’ like a book about microbes.

  2. I agree-breath of fresh air! I remember reading a children’s book at 5 or 6 years of age, and one sentence stands out to me: “Finally, be sure to dry your hands after washing them, so that you can wipe away the germs that cause you to throw up.” The picture that accompanied this sentence showed a cartoon smiling child wiping his hands with paper towel. This likely started my decades-long germophobia. Now my family finds it both ironic and humorous that I study the human microbiome and consider bacteria my “friends” when for so long I thought all germs were the plague! How wonderful that we are now beginning to teach our children that bacteria are beneficial rather than always bad news.

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Alex Alexiev

Alex Alexiev is a recent UC Davis graduate with a BS in microbiology working in Jonathan Eisen’s lab on aquariums as part of the microbiology of the built environment.