Science Nonfiction Review: The Good Virus

Science Nonfiction Review: The Good VirusTitle: The Good Virus: The Amazing Story and Forgotten Promise of the Phage
Author: Tom Ireland
Source: from publisher for review
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads

Summary: A delightfully well written book about a fascinating corner of science.

“At every moment, within your body and all around you, trillions of microscopic combatants are fighting an invisible war. Countless times per second, ‘good’ viruses known as phages are infecting and destroying bacteria. These phages are the most abundant life form on the planet” (source) and have the potential to be used as treatments for disease-causing bacteria. They can also empower bacteria with new ways of causing harm, transferring traits like toxin-production or antibiotic resistance between bacteria. And they can serve a more neutral purpose as a balanced part of a well-functioning ecosystem, in the ocean or in our guts.

This book had a lot of strengths in common with another new release I reviews – Blight, on the biology of fungus. Both are about organisms that we may not think about much, but which are ubiquitous in our environment and have the potential to influence human health. The authors in both cases do a great job of showing why people should care about these stories. They both also tell really engaging stories about the people doing the science. That was even more true in this book because people and politics have determined whether phage-based medicine is embraced or shunned.

I liked this book even better than Blight though, largely because of how fascinating I found the world of phages. It’s amazing to me that these tiny viruses can influence the carbon cycle or determine whether bacteria can cause disease. I also found peering into their tiny world to be an awe-inspiring delight. The fact that phages are infected by viruses and that a predator of phages has recently been discovered makes them feel like a miniature version of the animals we can more easily observed. Although treatment with phages is currently a huge undertaking, restricted to one-off individual cases with anecdotal results, these cases were also incredible to read about. In particular, this book summarizes the story from The Perfect Predator, in which author and scientist Steffanie Strathdee tried to get her husband access to phage treatment. Definitely a book I’d like to read next!

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