Biography of a Germ

Paperback | May 15, 2001

byArno Karlen

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Arno Karlen, author of Man and Microbes, focuses on a single bacterium in Biography of a Germ, giving us an intimate view of a life that has been shaped by and is in turn transforming our own.

Borrelia burgdorferi is the germ that causes Lyme disease. In existence for some hundred million years, it was discovered only recently. Exploring its evolution, its daily existence, and its journey from ticks to mice to deer to humans, Karlen lucidly examines the life and world of this recently prominent germ. He also describes how it attacks the human body, and how by changing the environment, people are now much more likely to come into contact with it. Charming and thorough and smart, this book is a wonderfully written biography of your not so typical biographical subject.

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From the Publisher

Arno Karlen, author of Man and Microbes, focuses on a single bacterium in Biography of a Germ, giving us an intimate view of a life that has been shaped by and is in turn transforming our own.Borrelia burgdorferi is the germ that causes Lyme disease. In existence for some hundred million years, it was discovered only recently. Explorin...

From the Jacket

Arno Karlen, author of Man and Microbes, focuses on a single bacterium in Biography of a Germ, giving us an intimate view of a life that has been shaped by and is in turn transforming our own. "Borrelia burgdorferi is the germ that causes Lyme disease. In existence for some hundred million years, it was discovered only recently. Explor...

Arno Karlen, Ph.D., a pschoanalyst, has written widely on history and biomedical science. He is the author of Napoleon's Glands and Other Ventures in Biohistory and Man and Microbes: Diseases and Plauges in History and Modern Times. He lives in New York City.From the Hardcover edition.

other books by Arno Karlen

Format:PaperbackDimensions:192 pages, 8.01 × 5.22 × 0.45 inPublished:May 15, 2001Publisher:Knopf Doubleday Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0385720661

ISBN - 13:9780385720663

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Chapter One: A Very Small LifeTo the naked eye, it is invisible, a nothing. Under the microscope, it seems a silvery corkscrew undulating on a dark field. The form has simple elegance, like the whorl of a nautilus shell or the sweep of a dragonfly wing. But that simplicity is an illusion. Through the more powerful electron microscope you see not a featureless wiggle but a shape-shifter -- now a spiral, now a thread, now a rod or a sphere -- with two walls, a dozen whiplike appendages and internal structures. And beyond any microscope's view, revealed only indirectly, by laboratory tests, lies a marvel of complexities. The surface bristles with molecules that sense and respond to the environment, and the interior churns like a chemical factory. Inside, more than a thousand genes flicker on and off in changing sequences, to allow survival in places as different as a tick's gut, a dog's knee and a human brain.It is the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, by human standards a very small, brief flicker of life. Yet the boldest writer of science fiction could not invent a creature so ingenious, whose existence is entwined with that of so many other species. Although this microbe inhabits much of the earth and myriad hosts, it was not discovered until 1982, and then only because it had ignited a new epidemic, Lyme disease. That illness, so troubling to humans, is just a short, recent chapter in the germ's long history, and from its own perspective not the most important one. Borrelia burgdorferi has an ancient lineage, far older than ours, and despite all the vaccines and antibiotics we devise, it has a more promising future. It preceded people on earth and will doubtless survive us. For that reason alone it deserves respectful biographers.Clearly there is much drama in this little theater. But that should be no surprise, for just as every person's life, seen close up, is compelling, so is every other creature's. Borrelia burgdorferi is proof that if you want to see life afresh and be struck with awe, you need only take a germ's-eye view of the world.From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

"Anro Karlen has written an elegant book that revives an old form: the biographical essay. In the spirit of Dr. Lewis Thomas, he humanizes the story of a germ while entertaining the reader with wonderfully digressive lore on history, biography, the environment, and the way humans imprint themselves on the natural landscape."-- James Atlas, author of Delmore Schwartz: The Life of an American PoetFrom the Hardcover edition.