Microbes get a bad rap. Sure, some of them cause diseases, and for millennia before antibiotics, had been the scourge of humanity. But most that we encounter in our daily lives are benign, or even beneficial to our health. Recent advances have enabled us to detect the genetic signatures of this unseen underworld, revealing microbial life that is far more diverse, abundant—and stranger—than previously imagined. Microbes thrive everywhere we’ve looked: from the upper reaches of the atmosphere to the very bowels of the Earth, in frigid lakes hidden beneath Antarctic ice to scalding geothermal vents.
Evolutionary biologist Rob Dunn investigates microbes and their hosts in the places where we live. Our homes may be one of the most novel habitats on the planet, with diverse ecological niches—showerheads and toilets, doormats and pillows, freezers and stovetops, cats and dogs, cleaning products and bathtub rings—plus all manner of manmade materials and imported foodstuffs. We share our homes with hundreds of thousands of species, a large proportion of which are unnamed and previously unknown to science.
Join Rob Dunn as he leads us on a journey into this mysterious micro world. Humans have co-evolved with this menagerie, and when we strive to rid ourselves of them, we may actually compromise our immune systems. We’ll hear the life stories of parasites that are stranger than can be imagined. We’ll learn how the ecology of critters living right under our noses may hold clues to medical or industrial breakthroughs. Along the way Dunn will highlight a class of humans, called chefs, who have domesticated a fraction of this micro world for our gustatory pleasure—although you may be left wondering exactly who domesticated whom!
Prof. Rob Dunn heads up the Dunn Lab Group at North Carolina State University and is an affiliate of the Danish Natural History Museum. With his lab mates and colleagues around the world, Dunn studies the biology of critters living in our midst—about which we know surprisingly little. He is the author of several popular science books, including most recently, Never Home Alone: The Natural History of Where We Live.