If you watch the Big Bang Theory, read the Science section of the New York Times and live on the line where nature meets poetry, Planet of Microbes: The Perils and Potential of Earth’s Essential Life Forms by Ted Anton will engage you in the history and future of microbes. Anton is as much a historian of science as he is a creative nonfiction writer. Anton was my science writing professor at DePaul in graduate school. So after I finished his new book I decided to contact him for an interview to shed light on microbes and health, specifically how they affect mental health.
You don’t have to understand science to understand Anton. He explains without patronizing, probing to the depths of life’s origins. He writes about how microbes influence health, mental health, and horticulture; how they are found in astronomy; how they can be used to fight disease; and how they can tell us secrets about the origins of life.
Anton got the idea for this book from his previous book Bold Science (2000). “The book ended with a Yellowstone hotpool with two researchers found 80 new species of microbe, including examples of a whole new kingdom,” he said. “Life is way more diverse in terms of microbes than first saw.”
Microbes play a role in anxiety and depression. “There is a strong link from our gut to our brain,” he said. “Gut is known as the second brain. Trillions of microbes live in the gut giving us the butterflies and our gut instinct.” Lack of diversity or a Western diet induce serotonin uptake inhibitors in the brain. This is why studies say we should consume prebiotics/probiotics such as yogurt, beer, wine, or cheese. “It’s controversial so you should discuss with your physician,” he said. The studies are correlation studies not causation. Studies show that a lack of diversity in the microbiome are due to anti-biotics. This may cause increases in the diagnosis of autism, ADHD.
If science were a movie Anton shows you the scientists behind microbes discovery, including the behind the scenes details of their lives. Reading Planet of Microbes is like talking directly to scientists. Anton sets the scene to give you every last detail of their worlds.