The Probiotic Planet

Using Life to Manage Life

2020
Author:

Jamie Lorimer

The Probiotic Planet

Assesses a promising new approach to restoring the health of our bodies and our planet

Jamie Lorimer offers a sweeping overview of diverse probiotic approaches and an insightful critique of their promise and limitations. Informed by deep engagement with microbiology, immunology, ecology, and conservation biology as well as food, agriculture, and waste management, The Probiotic Planet offers nothing less than a new paradigm for collaboration between the policy realm and the natural sciences.

This brilliant book delivers an incisive reading of probiotic cultural practices today—taking in everything from home fermentation to permaculture to rewilding. Jamie Lorimer expertly shows us that social and scientific projects that aim at re-calibrating microbial, bodily, and ecological worlds are experiments in the politics of symbiosis. In our days of viral peril, The Probiotic Planet is a vital reminder of the multiple futures biology may yet prepare.

Stefan Helmreich, author of Sounding the Limits of Life: Essays in the Anthropology of Biology and Beyond

Most of us are familiar with probiotics added to milk or yogurt to improve gastrointestinal health. In fact, the term refers to any intervention in which life is used to manage life—from the microscopic, like consuming fermented food to improve gut health, to macro approaches such as biological pest control and natural flood management. In this ambitious and original work, Jamie Lorimer offers a sweeping overview of diverse probiotic approaches and an insightful critique of their promise and limitations.

During our current epoch—the Anthropocene—human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment, leading to the loss of ecological abundance, diversity, and functionality. Lorimer describes cases in which scientists and managers are working with biological processes to improve human, environmental, and even planetary health, pursuing strategies that stand in contrast to the “antibiotic approach”: Big Pharma, extreme hygiene, and industrial agriculture. The Probiotic Planet focuses on two forms of “rewilding” occurring on vastly different scales. The first is the use of keystone species like wolves and beavers as part of landscape restoration. The second is the introduction of hookworms into human hosts to treat autoimmune disorders. In both cases, the goal is to improve environmental health, whether the environment being managed is planetary or human. Lorimer argues that, all too often, such interventions are viewed in isolation, and he calls for a rethinking of artificial barriers between science and policy. He also describes the stark and unequal geographies of the use of probiotic approaches and examines why these patterns exist.

The author’s preface provides a thoughtful discussion of the COVID-19 pandemic as it relates to the probiotic approach. Informed by deep engagement with microbiology, immunology, ecology, and conservation biology as well as food, agriculture, and waste management, The Probiotic Planet offers nothing less than a new paradigm for collaboration between the policy realm and the natural sciences.
The Probiotic Planet

Jamie Lorimer is associate professor in the School of Geography and the Environment at University of Oxford. He is author of Wildlife in the Anthropocene: Conservation after Nature (Minnesota, 2015).

The Probiotic Planet

This brilliant book delivers an incisive reading of probiotic cultural practices today—taking in everything from home fermentation to permaculture to rewilding. Jamie Lorimer expertly shows us that social and scientific projects that aim at re-calibrating microbial, bodily, and ecological worlds are experiments in the politics of symbiosis. In our days of viral peril, The Probiotic Planet is a vital reminder of the multiple futures biology may yet prepare.

Stefan Helmreich, author of Sounding the Limits of Life: Essays in the Anthropology of Biology and Beyond

Moving between human intestines and forests patches, The Probiotic Planet maps a diverse and emerging terrain of ecological experimentation, both formal and vernacular. A transdisciplinary analysis that brings detailed attention to scientific practices into dialogue with critical social theory, this book is also a bold and important experiment in its own right.

Heather Anne Swanson, director, Aarhus University Centre for Environmental Humanities

The Probiotic Planet

Contents

Introduction: Life in the Anthropocene

1. The Probiotic Turn: Rewilding and Biome Restoration

2. Thinking like Gaia: The Science of the Probiotic Turn

3. Symbiopolitics: Governing through Keystone Species

4. Wild Experiments: The Controlled Decontrolling of Ecological Controls

5. Geographies of Dysbiosis: The Patchiness of the Probiotic Turn

6. Future-Pasts: The Temporalities of the Probiotic Turn

7. Probiotic Value: Putting Keystone Species to Work

Conclusions: A Spectrum of Probiotics

Acknowledgments

Glossary

Notes

Bibliography

Index