Redemption of the Microbes: Bacterial Ecocatastrophe Narratives at the Advent of the Human Microbiome Project

Melissa Wills
UC Davis

This dissertation examines discourses surrounding contemporary microbiome research, asking how intensive focus on the microorganisms living in and on the human body reconfigures our ideas of space, selfhood, and health. I work closely with scientific publications and popularizations, as well as a broad cultural archive including science fiction, film, video games, and microbial bioart. Drawing on science and technology studies, literary studies, and media studies, the project charts the ways in which human-associated microbes are being refigured as partners rather than invaders. This shift necessitates an understanding of the human body as a composite organism which is always changing in constitution and even in spatial dispersion. This conception brings with it new ethics of medical and environmental responsibility, demanding attention to the ways in which individuals, communities, and the earth are all collectively impacted by the microbes that circulate in and around us all.