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Gods of Small Things


Victoria Lee, "Gods of Small Things", in Los Angeles Review of Books, June 27, 2021


Microbes don't always carry the likes of COVID-19 or the Afro-Eurasian childhood diseases of smallpox, measles, and influenza, which caused waves of demographic collapse in the cities of the Americas from the end of the 15th century. Sometimes they’re relatively benign. And sometimes we leave imprints on their history, too, and the engagement may in fact be gradual, mutual, and continuous. Consider the genome of certain strains of the fungus Penicillium roqueforti, which are used to make blue-veined cheeses. They are somewhat different from their “wild” ancestors. These slight differences in genetic code represent adaptations that took place over centuries, curated by generations of farmers and artisans who domesticated the mold to make Roquefort, Gorgonzola, or Stilton.

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