Rehabilitating the reputation of microbes

Are microbes our best friends? That could be the title of Marc-André Selosse’s book, in which the symbiosis specialist intends to rehabilitate their image and change our perception of them.


“Unfairly referred to in exclusively negative terms”, associated with diseases and decomposition, bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms that live off living organisms are only known for their negative effects. In “Jamais seul” (“Never alone”), however, Marc-André Selosse, professor at the National Museum of Natural History, puts the emphasis on the qualities of microbes that make them indispensable to life. The author explains in detail the symbioses that bring together microbes and plants, and explores the new properties that emerge from the union and which modify each partner’s way of working. He deciphers the extraordinary symbiotic adaptations made by land and sea animals alike. One example of this microbial support is Euprymna scalopes, a small squid that hunts at night to avoid being seen, but which can see its own prey thanks to a faint light given off by luminescent bacteria that colonize it. The author also describes the microbial companions with which we coexist – our microbiota – and their roles, which can be unexpected. Lastly, he demonstrates the role of microbial symbiosis in ecosystems, the evolution of life, and cultural and dietary practices that have forged civilizations.


Marc-André Selosse. Jamais seul. Ces microbes qui construisent les plantes, les animaux et les civilisations. Editions Actes Sud, Hors collection. Juin 2017. 368 pages.