“Simultaneously an introductory microbiology textbook, Idaho tourist guide, and coffee table book, Idaho Microbes exposes the complexities of the microbial world to the layman and microbiology student alike with visually stunning imagery.” – Andrea Rediske, Journal of Microbiology and Biology Education
In the new book, Idaho Microbes: How tiny single-celled organisms can harm, or save, our world (Boise State University) author Steve Stuebner takes us on 10 “eco-adventures” to learn about micro-organisms that impact Idaho’s environment – and sometimes our personal lives – in good and bad ways.
“I took on the microbes book project because I saw it as an opportunity to learn. I felt this project stretched my brain more than anything has in 20 years,” Steve says.
“[Microbes] were here first, and they will certainly be here last. Evolutionarily, all life came from microbes and in death, to microbes we all return,” notes the book’s science advisor, Greg Hampikian, a professor of biology at Boise State.
It was great to team up with my friend and colleague Todd Shallat, who edited the book and acquired the hundreds of unique, colorful images featured inside. “Todd did a superb job and designer Adele Thomsen really worked her magic in the book layout; it just turned out gorgeous!” Steve says.
Boise State commissioned Steve to write Idaho Microbes to cast a new light on these tiny single-celled organisms and underscore some ground-breaking scientific discoveries by Boise State Professor of Biology Merlin White (an expert in gut fungi), and adjunct professor Bill Bourland, a former vascular surgeon, who is a modern-day microbe hunter.
In addition to the work of Bourland and White, the book explores:
- The role of yeast in the craft beer industry, which is exploding across Idaho and the nation. Yeast, a well-known single-celled microorganism when it comes to making bread, is vital to the art of beer making and ultimately, the taste of a microbrew. Steve visits two popular microbreweries, Salmon River Brewery in McCall and Payette Brewing in Boise to bring this story to life.
- Methanogens, magical microbes that create biogas and electricity from cow manure in an anaerobic digester in the Magic Valley, a project that offers a key solution to manure management in the ever-growing dairy industry.
- White pine blister-rust and how that exotic invader, combined with the mountain pine beetle, is killing off whitebark pine trees in the rooftops of Idaho’s mountains and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
- Edible fungi such as morels that fuel the Locavore Natural Food movement, while we learn about mycelia, a vast underground life-support network that supports multiple species of fungi in the forest.
- Giardia intestinalis, a widespread parasite, has long been the bane of thirsty backpackers who might accidentally ingest it from Idaho’s seemingly pristine streams and rivers. Steve searches for answers about how giardia invaded our mountain streams in the first place, how it spreads and how the parasite magically transforms to wreak havoc inside the human digestive system.
- Naturally occurring microbes that are cleaning up an underground oil spill at a Nampa gas station, with assistance from the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, using a technique called “ozone sparging.” In this chapter, Boise State Biology Professor Kevin Feris captured, cultured and identified two of the microbes that are “eating” petroleum products in the soil and ground water, allowing Steve to paint the full picture of how the cleanup works.
- Biological soil crusts, the basic building block that holds the soil together on Idaho’s arid rangelands. Cyanobacteria, mosses and lichens form a symbiotic relationship to create the crusts in a romance we call “Freddy Fungus meets Alice Algae.” Soil crusts allow western rangelands to support the plant life and shrubs vital to species such as the greater sage-grouse.
- The ever-growing Healthy Soil movement, which embraces no-till farming and the smart use of cover crops to energize a whole suite of microbes in farm fields to increase soil productivity, moisture retention and crop yields. This practice has been popular with wheat farmers in the Palouse for years, and it’s catching momentum in southern Idaho as well.