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From garden to gut: New book from explores hidden world of microbes

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A new book by University of Washington geologist David Montgomery weaves history, science and personal challenges into an exploration of humanity's tangled relationship with microbes, perhaps the least loved and most misunderstood creatures on Earth — and in you.

"The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health" comes out Nov. 16 from W.W. Norton & Co. Montgomery, a UW professor of Earth and space sciences, co-wrote the book with his wife, Anne Biklé, a biologist and environmental planner. From restoring the soil in their urban yard to building a garden, to grappling with a cancer diagnosis for Biklé, the authors share their discoveries about the unfolding revolution of microbiome science and how it transformed their view of nature — and themselves.

The book recounts the heyday of microbiology that led to germ theory and how, by the late 20th century, scientists changed the tree of life to reflect the dominance of microbial life. It then focuses on the new understanding of microbes now emerging from seemingly unrelated fields such as plant science and immunology. Drawing on this latest work, the authors see stunning similarities between the root of a plant and the human gut that are both profound and fundamental.

Beneficial relationships between microbes and their human and plant hosts are unimaginably old and have shaped each through the millennia in ways we are only beginning to understand. The book covers unusually effective new therapeutic approaches based on microbiome science, including fecal transplants for people and probiotics for soils.

Montgomery and Biklé urge cultivating and protecting the microbial allies deep within our gut and beneath our feet to restore the land and heal ourselves. They see a common pathway for doing both — mulching our inner soil with a diet abundant in plant foods and mulching the soils beneath farms and gardens with organic matter and cover crops.

Montgomery is a three-time winner of the Washington State Book Award, for "The Rocks Don't Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah's Flood" in 2013, "Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations" in 2008 and "King of Fish: The Thousand-Year Run of Salmon" in 2004.

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For more information, contact Montgomery at 206-685-2560, 206-618-9220 or [email protected]

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