Life at Small Scale: The Behavior of Microbes. David B. Dusenbery. W H Freeman & Company.

Life at Small Scale: The Behavior of Microbes Book Cover Life at Small Scale: The Behavior of Microbes
David B. Dusenbery
W H Freeman & Company
September 1996

More than three centuries ago, peering through his homemade microscope at a few drops of murky lake water, Antony von Leeuwenhoek drew back the veil on the mysterious lives of nature’s smallest living organisms. With this new volume from the Scientific American Library, readers will have their own up-close encounters with some of the most fascinating and influential inhabitants of the unseen microworlds both within our bodies and all around us – the bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and other organisms characterized as microbes.

Microbes are essential participants in the web of life and have a profound impact on humankind and our environment. They cause diseases such as cholera and are the source of such remedies as penicillin. They help transform grape juice into vintage wine and milk into fine cheese. They decompose matter, playing a leading role in nature’s extraordinary recycling program. And they offer scientists the opportunity to study life at an infinitesimal scale, where in order to survive organisms must adapt to laws of physics in ways much different than our own.

In Life at Small Scale, noted biophysicist David B. Dusenbery describes how microbes obtain and use information from their environments to meet the fundamental challenges all organisms face – getting food, avoiding predators and competitors, and dispersing progeny. As Dusenbery demonstrates, these organisms are hardly as simple as is often presumed. Despite their size (or rather because of it), microbes develop some surprisingly complex behaviours, all in response to the physical demands of the worlds they inhabit. Thus the pages of this captivating, richly illustrated volume are filled with descriptions of organisms that have devised remarkably sophisticated, often bizarre ways of moving, navigating, communicating, eating, resisting enemies, besting rivals, and reproducing.

From fungi that launch their spores as projectiles, to “magnetic” bacteria that align like compass needles with the Earth’s magnetic field, to the microbes that disperse when we sneeze,  Life at Small Scale introduces an intriguing cast of characters, exploring their lives and environments in exquisite detail. It also shows how knowledge gained from the study of microbes helps us understand life on human and global scales at well. Here then is definitive proof: there is more to life than what meets the eye.

David B. Dusenbery is a Professor of Biology at the Georgia Institute of technology. The holder of a Ph.D. in biophysics, he has studied the behavior of nematodes and other simple organisms for two decades, publishing numerous scientific papers. His interest in how physical laws influence behavior that him to write the acclaimed book Sensory Ecology. Dr. Dusenbery has also developed software programs to simultaneously track hundreds of living organisms, test models of behavioral mechanisms, and generate informative images. Several of these unique images appear in Life at Small Scale.