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Did you know that your currently carrying at least a kilo of bacteria around on (and in!) you at the moment? And that without these hitchhikers we’d get very sick, very quickly? The world is a very different place if you are a bacteria or virus, who can happily live in the most extreme environments on earth, from deep-sea volcanoes to boiling hot sulphur ponds.

Thus was Thursday nights entertainment introduced to me. A night with Idan Ben-Barak, author of Small Wonders, at the newly opened RiAus.

Small Wonders

When Idan started the book he had one rule – it must be funny (and he’s a Terry Pratchett fan!) What he was studying at the time was one protein in one species of one microbe – not exactly page-turning stuff. His concept was based on what got him into science in the first place. The wow factor, the same thing that got me into this blog – it’s all the cool stuff about science, in his case microbes, that are fascinating. He would hear about these organisms who do amazing things and he was constantly surprised by them. “Why don’t people know about this?” he wondered. “Because I haven’t written it yet.”

His book is all about mindblowing biology, like bacteria that live at 100 degrees Celsius and freeze at 70 degrees – they have to live way underwater next to thermal vents where the water is under so much pressure that it doesn’t vaporize from the temperature. Those bacteria have made it possible for us to do PCR, because their enzymes stay functional at the high temperatures we use to separate the DNA strands. Or how about cow crap cannons, a fungus that lives in cow dung until it becomes overpopulated, at which point they erect “canons” aiming up high using photoreceptors, which send organisms flying long distances to hopefully land and colonise a new home. Or microbes that switch their appearance to hide themselves from the immune system – “oh, you recognise me like this. Well how about THIS!”

To be honest – I haven’t read the book. I’ve bought novels on microbes before and found them not as interesting as they seem on the blurb, so now I tend to avoid them. But after Thursday I’m definitely planning to buy this book! Actually I have a voucher for Borders I got for my birthday which I haven’t used that – it may have just found it’s calling 🙂

The RiAus have a pretty cool calendar of events coming up, so if you’re in the Adelaide area it’s worth checking out.