Making microbes matter: essay review of Maureen A. O’Malley’s Philosophy of Microbiology

Abstract

In a pioneering book, Philosophy of Microbiology, Maureen O’Malley argues for the philosophical importance of microbes through an examination of their impact on ecosystems, evolution, biological classification, collaborative behavior, and multicellular organisms. She identifies many understudied conceptual issues in the study of microbes. If philosophers follow her lead, the philosophy of biology will be expanded and enriched.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1

References

  1. Ankeny RA, Leonelli S (2011) What’s so special about model organisms? Stud Hist Philos Sci A 42(2):313–323

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Balázsi G, van Oudenaarden A, Collins JJ (2011) Cellular decision making and biological noise: from microbes to mammals. Cell 144(6):910–925

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Belkaid Y, Hand TW (2014) Role of the microbiota in immunity and inflammation. Cell 157(1):121–141

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Ben Jacob E, Becker I, Shapira Y, Levine H (2004) Bacterial linguistic communication and social intelligence. Trends Microbiol 12(8):366–372

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Booth A, Mariscal C, Doolittle WF (2016) The modern synthesis in the light of microbial genomics. Annu Rev Microbiol 70:279–297

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Boyd R (2010) Homeostasis, higher taxa, and monophyly. Philos Sci 77(5):686–701

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Clarke E (2016) Levels of selection in biofilms: multispecies biofilms are not evolutionary individuals. Biol Philos 31(2):191–212

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Copeland HF (1938) The kingdoms of organisms. Q Rev Biol 13(4):383–420

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Dawkins R (2016) The Selfish Gene. Oxford University Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  10. Dretske F (1986) Misrepresentation. In: Bogdan RJ (ed) Belief: form, content, and function. Clarendon, Oxford, pp 17–36

    Google Scholar 

  11. Dupré J (1981) Natural kinds and biological taxa. Philos Rev 90(1):66–90

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Dupré J, O’Malley MA (2007) Metagenomics and biological ontology. Stud Hist Philos Sci C: Stud Hist Philos Biol Biomed Sci 38(4):834–846

    Google Scholar 

  13. Godfrey-Smith P (2013) Darwinian Individuals. In: Bouchard F, Huneman P (eds) From groups to individuals: perspectives on biological associations and emerging individuals. MIT Press, Cambridge, pp 17–36

    Google Scholar 

  14. Griffiths PE, Gray RD (1994) Developmental systems and evolutionary explanation. J Philos 91(6):277–304

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Hanada S (2016) Anoxygenic photosynthesis—A photochemical reaction that does not contribute to oxygen reproduction. Microb Environ 31(1):1–3

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Johnston DT, Wolfe-Simon F, Pearson A, Knoll AH (2009) Anoxygenic photosynthesis modulated Proterozoic oxygen and sustained Earth’s middle age. Proc Natl Acad Sci 106(40):16925–16929

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Kodaman N, Pazos A, Schneider BG, Piazuelo MB, Mera R, Sobota RS, Harder RH (2014) Human and Helicobacter pylori coevolution shapes the risk of gastric disease. Proc Natl Acad Sci 111(4):1455–1460

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Love AC, Travisano M (2013) Microbes modeling ontogeny. Biol Philos 28(2):161–188

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Mayer EA, Knight R, Mazmanian SK, Cryan JF, Tillisch K (2014) Gut microbes and the brain: paradigm shift in neuroscience. J Neurosci 34(46):15490–15496

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. McInerney JO, Pisani D, Bapteste E, O’Connell MJ (2011) The public goods hypothesis for the evolution of life on Earth. Biol Direct 6(1):41

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Millikan RG (1989) Biosemantics. J Philos 86(6):281–297

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Morgan GJ (2016) What is a virus species? Radical pluralism in viral taxonomy. Stud Hist Philos Sci C: Stud Hist Philos Biol Biomed Sci 59:64–70

    Google Scholar 

  23. Morgan GJ, Pitts WB (2008) Evolution without species: the case of mosaic bacteriophages. Br J Philos Sci 59(4):745–765

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. O’Malley MA (2014) Philosophy of microbiology. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  25. O’Malley MA (2016) Reproduction expanded: multigenerational and multilineal units of evolution. Philos Sci 83(5):835–847

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. O’Malley MA, Travisano M, Velicer GJ, Bolker JA (2015) How do microbial populations and communities function as model systems? Q Rev Biol 90(3):269–293

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Queller DC, Strassmann JE (2009) Beyond society: the evolution of organismality. Philos Trans R Soc B: Biol Sci 364(1533):3143–3155

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Turner D (2011) Paleontology: a philosophical introduction. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  29. Weisberg M (2007) Three kinds of idealization. J Philos 104(12):639–659

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Williams TA, Foster PG, Cox CJ, Embley TM (2013) An archaeal origin of eukaryotes supports only two primary domains of life. Nature 504(7479):231

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

This collaborative review was written in the Fall of 2017 as a work product of Stevens Institute of Technology class HPL 367 Philosophy of Biology, which aims to bring undergraduates into philosophical research. We thank Maureen O’Malley for comments on an early draft.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Gregory J. Morgan.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Morgan, G.J., Romph, J., Ross, J.L. et al. Making microbes matter: essay review of Maureen A. O’Malley’s Philosophy of Microbiology. Biol Philos 33, 12 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10539-018-9623-5

Download citation

Keywords

  • Microbial classification
  • Microbial species
  • Microbiome
  • Philosophy of molecular biology
  • Biological individuality