In “Le Peuple microbien”, the infinitely small examined under the magnifying glass of biologist Laurent Palka

At the end of the XVIIe century, after the revelation by the clothier Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek of the invisible world of animalcules thanks to the magnifying power of the optical lens, scientists set out in search of tiny lives, being passionate about both the water of the lakes and the tartar of the teeth or for semen. If biologists have since perfected their knowledge of the microbial world, the advent of DNA amplification and analysis technologies since the early 2000s offers them the opportunity to renew their gaze, by revealing the richness and the unexpected functions of the microscopic.

In his book, The microbial people, the biologist Laurent Palka invites the reader to share his gaze, both erudite and amazed. Divided into six chapters corresponding to the description of microbial worlds as varied as the microbiota of the human body, the microalgae of aquatic environments or the extremophilic bacteria, the book is illustrated with photos under a photon microscope which, while documenting the subject, contribute by their quality the extraordinary dimension desired by the author. It is also rich in stories that shed light on the researchers’ approach and their discoveries, supported by detailed descriptions intended to satisfy any lover of scientific culture.

Color, pollution, extraterrestrial life …

The human intestine is therefore home to 10 to 100 billion bacteria comprising more than 2,000 species, compared to six billion for the microbiota of the mouth, distributed among 700 species. The mosaics that make up these microbiota also vary over the course of life, and according to the state of health. Their representation in the form of histograms allows the reader to appropriate the researcher’s questioning, in particular on the way in which breastfeeding contributes to the installation of the infant’s microbiota.

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If the Covid-19 pandemic reinforces the threatening representations of microorganisms in the collective imagination, the author recalls that these have also inspired humans to use antibiotics or, more recently, the molecular chisel Crispr-Cas9, which earned Frenchwoman Emmanuelle Charpentier and American Jennifer Doudna the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2020.

Some microalgae could also serve as pollutant traps thanks to their capacity to absorb CO2 atmospheric, as was tested at Carrefour d’Alésia, in Paris, between 2017 and 2018. The reader will also learn about the molecular mechanisms thanks to which these microalgae color the oceans, or on those which allow extremophilic bacteria to survive in the sea. desert or in the ocean abyss. He will learn how knowledge of microbes guides research into extraterrestrial life.

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In “Le Peuple microbien”, the infinitely small examined under the magnifying glass of biologist Laurent Palka

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