The Good Virus: The Amazing Story and Forgotten Promise of the Phage
How a mysterious, super-powerful—yet long-neglected—microbe rules our world and can rescue our health in the age of antibiotic resistance.
At every moment, within our bodies and all around us, trillions of microscopic combatants are waging a war that shapes our health and life on Earth. Countless times per second, viruses known as phages attack and destroy bacteria while leaving all other life forms, including us, unscathed. Vastly outnumbering the viruses that do us harm, phages power ecosystems, drive evolutionary innovation, and harbor a remarkable capacity to heal life-threatening infections when conventional antibiotics fail. Yet most of us have never heard of them, thinking of viruses only as enemies to be feared. The Good Virus prompts us to reconsider, and to discover, how these viruses could save countless lives if we can learn to harness their extraordinary abilities.
Taking us inside the ongoing quest to use phages’ powers for good, Tom Ireland introduces us to the brilliant, often eccentric, scientists who have fought to realize phages’ potential in the face of doubt and political intrigue. We meet the renegade French-Canadian scientist who discovered phages and pioneered their use as medicine over a century ago, leading them to be hailed as the world’s first genuine antibiotic years before penicillin. We learn why, in some pockets of the former Soviet Union, drinking a vial of phages remains as common as taking an over-the-counter drug. We follow the intrepid scientists and doctors now racing to make “phage therapy” work worldwide as the threat of antibiotic-resistant bacteria grows ever more urgent—even as other researchers uncover how phages bolster our everyday immunity, help generate the oxygen we breathe, and furnish the origins for breakthrough technologies like CRISPR.
Unveiling the hidden rulers of the microbial world and celebrating the surprising power of viruses to heal, not harm, The Good Virus forever changes how we see nature’s most maligned life forms.
Praise for The Good Virus: The Amazing Story and Forgotten Promise of the Phage
A colorful redemption story for the oft-neglected yet incredibly abundant phage. . . . Ireland, an award-winning science journalist, approaches the subject of his first book with curiosity and passion, delivering a deft narrative that is rich and approachable.
— Alex Johnson - The New York Times Book Review
As engaging as it is expansive, The Good Virus describes the distinctive biology and murky history of bacteriophage (generally shortened to ‘phage’), a form of life that is remarkably abundant yet obscure enough to have been termed the ‘dark matter of biology.’
— David A. Shaywitz - Wall Street Journal
— Adrian Woolfson - Science
Both optimistic and realistic. . . . A capably guided tour of a scientific wave of the future.
— Kirkus Reviews
A masterful blend of jaw-dropping science and absorbing storytelling. . . . This book reminds us of the missed opportunities we simply cannot afford to miss again.
— George McGavin, BBC and Discovery Channel presenter
A new scientific frontier which couldn’t be more fascinating or vital. Phages are critical to our health, and the health of the whole planet. Brilliantly written and profound, this book is ahead of the curve and deserves to become a classic.
— Daniel M. Davis, author of The Beautiful Cure and The Secret Body
It is rare to find such a rich seam of science that is so pertinent to modern health concerns yet feels so underrecognized. Everybody knows about good bacteria, but I doubt they have heard of good viruses (I hadn’t). . . . This book is full of gems of information and hope for the future.
— Suzanne O’Sullivan, author of The Sleeping Beauties: And Other Stories of Mystery Illness
Incredible and thought-provoking. Phages are the superheroes of the human biome. A truly enlightening read that makes you realize what we really don’t yet know.
— Sue Black, president of St John’s College, Oxford, and author of Written in Bone
This thrilling book will amaze you. Viruses have been attacking bacteria since the dawn of time, but in the last century some scientists have been able to enlist them in the fight against bacterial infections. Tom Ireland’s limpid writing tells the exciting story of the past and future of ‘phage therapy,’ balanced by a sober exploration of the problems involved in turning the good viruses into treatments. Highly recommended.
— Matthew Cobb, author of Life’s Greatest Secret: The Race to Crack the Genetic Code
An enthralling, meticulously researched book that will change the way you think about not only viruses, but also the science behind discovery and rediscovery.
— Steffanie Strathdee, author of The Perfect Predator: A Scientist’s Race to Save Her Husband from a Deadly Superbug