Cockroaches repel us, we run from spiders in our bathrooms, we kill crickets in our basements and moths in our closets, while our dogs and cats track in dirt full of bacteria. Much to our dismay, our homes are filled with uninvited guests. In Never Home Alone, ecologist Rob Dunn examines the biodiversity we live with every day in our basements, bedrooms and kitchens.
In this intriguing and captivating scientific detective story, Dunn examines our mania for keeping our houses clean and sparkling in a futile effort to keep out bacteria, fungi and insects. The problem with these efforts, he points out, is that we too often inadvertently kill off the benign—or even helpful—with the harmful. Dunn eloquently observes that many species we find in our homes have value to us—for example, spiders keep pests such as mosquitoes and flies under control, and certain species of wasps live on the larvae of German cockroaches. If we study these species closely, we may be able to harness these “good” bacteria for commercial or medical purposes, such as making antibiotics.
Dunn peers closely at many of the aspects of our daily lives, like showering, which introduce us to both good and bad bacteria. As he points out, “the showerhead is one the of the simplest ecosystems in your house.” It contains in its biofilm—the gunk we find in the showerhead whenever we clean it (if we clean it!)—mycobacterial strains, some of which can make us sick and some of which are harmless. Scientists continue to work to identify the hundreds of mycobacteria in such biofilms and how they affect us.
Never Home Alone posits that if we look around us as Dunn does, we can begin to see the glorious biodiversity of our indoor worlds and wonder at its complexity and capacity.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our Q&A with Rob Dunn.