Lillian Wilson

Missing Microbes by Marting J. Blaser

Discover the intricate relationship between human health, the microbiome, and the challenges posed by antibiotic overuse.

Missing Microbes

The book has gotten 4.17 ⭐️ on GoodReads.

In modern healthcare, the growing concern of overusing antibiotics and medical interventions, for example, C-sections, poses a significant dilemma. While these treatments have been pivotal in overcoming once-deadly illnesses, their widespread adoption now raises concerns. The use of C-sections for 25% of UK births and the sale of over 212 tonnes of antibiotic-active ingredients in 2021 highlight our heavy reliance on medical interventions.

In addressing this critical issue, ‘Missing Microbes’ by Martin J. Blaser emerges as a thought-provoking exploration of the impact of antibiotics and medical practices on the microbiome – an intricate community of microorganisms that have existed within us for aeons.

Author’s background

For over three decades, Martin J. Blaser MD has conducted research on the impact of bacteria on human health. He currently leads the Human Microbiome Program at New York University.

Martin J. Blaser (r)

Additionally, he has held significant positions such as chair of medicine at NYU, president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, and has provided important guidance at the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Blaser is a co-founder of the Bellevue Literary Review and his work has been featured in various renowned publications including The New Yorker, Nature, The New York Times, The Economist, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal.

What is the book about?

‘Missing Microbes’ by Martin J. Blaser dives into the fascinating connection between humans and the bacteria living in us, known as the human microbiome. The author emphasises the symbiotic harmony that has existed for millennia between bacteria and human cells within our bodies. Despite the essential role of this relationship, Blaser expresses his concern about the excessive use of antibiotics and medical treatments that ruin this balance.

Blaser backs up his points with his own research, especially discussing H. pylori, a bacterium linked to stomach problems. He discovers that while H. pylori can be harmful, it might also provide protection against certain diseases. This feature showcases the nuanced role of bacteria in human health.

The author also raises the issue of the overuse of antibiotics in medicine and farming. He admits that they have played a crucial role in healthcare but insists on understanding their long-term effects. Blaser is wary of antibiotic-resistant dangerous bacteria emerging and the risk of antibiotics getting into our food from livestock.

Thus, Blaser advocates for a more balanced approach to medical interventions that takes into account the intricate web of interactions between microbes and human cells. The book serves as a call to action, encouraging readers to rethink the way we use antibiotics and approach healthcare in order to preserve the delicate balance of the microbiome and safeguard our well-being.

Table of contents

  • 1. Modern Plagues
  • 2. Our Microbial Planet
  • 3. The Human Microbiome
  • 4. The Rise of Pathogens
  • 5. The Wonder Drugs
  • 6. The Overuse of Antibiotics
  • 7. The Modern Farmer
  • 8. Mother and Child
  • 9. A Forgotten World
  • 10. Heartburn
  • 11. Trouble Breathing
  • 12. Taller
  • 13. … and Fatter
  • 14. Modern Plagues Revisited
  • 15. Antibiotic Winter
  • 16. Solutions
  • Epilogue
  • Notes
  • Index
  • Acknowledgments
  • About the Author
  • Copyright

Key takeaways from the book

1The absence of certain microbes may contribute to the increase in the risk of chronic conditions

In ‘Missing Microbes,’ Martin J. Blaser uncovers the vital connection between the human microbiome, a community of microorganisms that plays a pivotal role in our health. The microbiome, responsible for fortifying our immune system and warding off diseases, is established at birth as newborns come into contact with diverse microbes from their surroundings. Blaser highlights the risks posed by medical interventions like caesarian sections and the overuse of antibiotics and sanitisers, which can disrupt the delicate balance of the microbiome. Just as removing one species in an ecosystem can trigger a domino effect of consequences, altering the diversity of the microbiome can have far-reaching implications for our health. The key message here is that maintaining a diverse and harmonious microbiome is essential for safeguarding our overall health and resilience against intruders.

2Antibiotic use is a double-edged sword

The groundbreaking achievement of antibiotics in the 20th century has undoubtedly saved countless lives from once-fatal diseases, yet this achievement carries a sobering truth. The widespread use of antibiotics, including their presence in our food supply, raises concerning issues. Originally administered to livestock for health purposes, antibiotics in agriculture have shifted towards promoting growth, unintentionally resulting in harmful residues in our food and water, and fostering antibiotic-resistant microbes in animals. This poses a direct threat to our own microbiomes, rendering us prone to infections.

Furthermore, while antibiotics can eliminate harmful bacteria, they can also disrupt the delicate balance of the gut microbiome, allowing aggressive pathogens like Clostridium difficile to thrive. An antibiotic regimen, even under typical circumstances, can compromise immunity, as seen in the 1985 Salmonella outbreak tied to antibiotic use.

3The good microbes thrive when you reduce the use of antibiotics and take prebiotics

As ‘Missing Microbes’ emphasises, cautious usage of antibiotics can significantly safeguard our health. Overuse of antibiotics is a growing concern, making it imperative to employ these medications only when genuinely necessary. While the layperson may struggle to determine the necessity of antibiotics, communicating your preference to healthcare professionals to use antibiotics judiciously can be beneficial. This applies to children as well, urging parents to consult doctors before administering antibiotics. Some nations, like the French, are actively striving to minimize antibiotic exposure, especially among children. The ‘Antibiotics Are Not Automatic’ campaign in France led to a substantial reduction in antibiotic consumption, showcasing the impact of informed decision-making.

Furthermore, nurturing a flourishing gut microbiome can be accomplished by consuming prebiotics, which are substances that facilitate the growth and vitality of microorganisms. The author proposes that incorporating prebiotics into your diet can assist in supporting beneficial microbes. However, Blaser anticipates that in the future, the significance of both prebiotics and probiotics – live bacterial cultures – will be underscored for their role in enhancing gut well-being.

Strengths and weaknesses, according to readers’ reviews


  • Presents a well-rounded view, acknowledging the benefits and potential risks of antibiotics without outright condemning their use.

  • The author’s concise explanations of historical and current practices make the content easily understandable for both experienced and new-to-the-topic readers.


  • Some significant lifestyle changes that could contribute to the discussed health issues are not discussed.

  • The inclusion of autism in the category of ‘plagues’ is problematic and may be considered offensive to some readers.

Best quotes from ‘Missing Microbes’

“The loss of diversity within our microbiome is far more pernicious [than the overuse of antibiotics and resulting antibiotic resistance]. Its loss changes development itself, affecting our metabolism, immunity, and cognition.”
“Food allergies are everywhere. A generation ago, peanut allergies were extremely rare. ... Ten percent of children suffer from hay fever. Eczema, a chronic skin inflammation, affects more than 15 percent of children and 2 percent of adults in the United States. In industrialized nations, the number of kids with eczema has tripled in the past thirty years.”
“Each of us hosts a ... diverse ecology of microbes that has coevolved with our species over millennia. They thrive in the mouth, gut, nasal passages, ear canal, and on the skin… The microbes that constitute your microbiome are generally acquired early in life; surprisingly, by the age of three, the populations within children resemble those of adults. Together, they play a critical role in your immunity as well as your ability to combat disease. In short, it is your microbiome that keeps you healthy. And parts of it are disappearing.”

Final takeaway

‘Missing Microbes’ by Martin J. Blaser offers a thought-provoking exploration into the intricate relationship between humans and the bacteria residing within them. Blaser’s balanced perspective and emphasis on the delicate balance of the human microbiome provide valuable insights for readers across various backgrounds. The informative analysis delves into the consequences of antibiotic overuse and the potential risks associated with disrupting the microbiome. While the book addresses concerns, it also advocates for responsible antibiotic usage and offers a glimpse into the importance of prebiotics and probiotics for maintaining gut health.

Healthcare professionals, microbiology enthusiasts, and anyone intrigued by the impact of antibiotics on human well-being will find this book a compelling read.

Where to buy

You may purchase ‘Missing Microbes’ on Amazon at the best price. It is available in paperback, hardcover, audio and Kindle versions, so you may choose an option that appeals to you the most.

Healthypedia FAQ

Martin J. Blaser draws on his own extensive research as well as references various studies and experiments that demonstrate the impact of antibiotics on the microbiome, the potential link between microbiome disruptions and chronic diseases, and the consequences of antibiotic overuse.

The author explains complex concepts in an accessible manner. The book serves as an informative introduction to the human microbiome and issues caused by antibiotic overuse.

Martin J. Blaser presents a balanced view by acknowledging the life-saving benefits of antibiotics while also highlighting the need to recognize their potential risks. He emphasises the importance of understanding the long-term consequences of antibiotic usage and advocating for a more cautious approach.

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