Science - April 18, 2011

Microbe Club presents The Canon

The microbe canon comes out today, telling you what you ought to know about microbiology. In more than sixty chapters, dozens of authors shed light on the key facts about bacteria, Archaea, fungi, viruses and algae, and on the enormous impact that these miniscule, often invisible organisms have on our daily lives.

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The first copy of the new canon is to be handed over to Prince Willem-Alexander today at Papendal at the centenary conference of the Dutch Association for Microbiology.
 
The canon was an initiative of the Microbes Club, a group of microbiologists who played football together in their student days at the VU University in Amsterdam, says one of the five, Joop van Doorn. Van Doorn now studies bacteria and viruses on flower bulbs, trees and fruit at the Plant and Environment laboratory. Two other members of the club are now part of the Wageningen UR family: Peter Willemsen at the Central Veterinary Institute, and John van der Oost at the Laboratory for Microbiology.

The book was born of the wish to generate more enthusiasm for microbiology, explains Van Doorn. The Microbe Club seeks to do this through their website. 'We are full of ideas, from films on Youtube to new apps' - and of course the attractively produced and extensively illustrated canon. This was not produced with a specific target group in mind, says Van Doorn. 'But we do hope that the book will end up, through biology teachers, in the higher classes at secondary schools, where it could be a help with projects and class presentations.'

There was no lack in interest in contributing to the canon. 'When we put out a call to colleagues asking what should be in the canon from their particular field, we got a flood of ideas and stories. We did organize the material a bit course, but we did not apply very stringent criteria: it is a motley collection', says Van Doorn. As a result, viruses, for example, are only dealt with incidentally, there is only one story about algae (from Rene Wijffels, about biodiesel) and plant diseases hardly get a look-in. On the other hand, the book does offer a colourful bouquet of interesting and often current topics such as Q fever, antibiotic resistance, Alzheimer's, waste water purification, why sterile chickens have no taste, Montezuma's revenge, and of course the founding fathers Van Leeuwenhoek, Pasteur and Kluyver. Anyone who misses their favourite topic can go to the website and make a contribution to an even more definitive canon.

Microcanon - Wat je beslist moet weten over microbiologie. Natuurwetenschap & Techniek
(Microcanon: what you should know about Microbiology.The Natural Sciences and Technology) (Veen Magazines), 42,50 euros.

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