I just stumbled across a NY Times article about a children’s book by Nicola Davies by the title Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes. The article and the quotes from the book make me both excited and optimistic for how microbes are portrayed. A huge problem I have found in talking to non-microbiologists about microbiology is that there is a stark focus on pathogens; despite the fact that most microbes are beneficial and necessary for human life. If the general perception of these “tiny creatures” is changed, subjects like antibiotic resistance and microbes in the built environment will become way easier to talk about. There are many studies that come across some microbe that sounds alarming to have in one’s home, but is actually completely harmless. For instance, most E. coli are non-pathogenic and even beneficial, but if you tell someone there is E. coli in their toilet they might assume the worst. Really though, E. coli is expected in a toilet since it lives in the gut, and is most likely not the pathogenic strain.
By changing public misconceptions of microbes, we can move towards solving problems with over-sanitation in the built environment and start to explore interesting questions about non-pathogenic microbes. This children’s book is an example that gives me hope that this is possible, especially with regards to the young and impressionable minds of those reading it.