Ailsa Wild, Aviva Reed,; Briony Barr, Gregory Crocetti, and Linda Blackall, The Squid, the Vibrio and the Moon, CSIRO Publishing, February 2019, 40 pp., RRP $24.99 (hbk), ISBN 9781486309894
Ali and Mai, two Vibrio fischeri bacteria, struggle to find their way into a squid egg where they know they will be safe from hungry protozoa. The squid helps by pumping out mucus to repel the protozoa, and the Vibrio fischeri enter unharmed. Inside, they are confronted by a guardian haemocyte who lets them through into a tunnel oozing chemicals that kill other bacteria. Ali begins to create daughter cells. The Vibrio fischeri sit in the belly of the baby squid, Sepio, when it hatches, their blue glow acting as an invisibility cloak for the squid so that it can feed itself and, inadvertently, feed the bacteria living symbiotically in its gut.
The Squid, the vibrio and the Moon is divided into two parts: the fictional tale of Ali, Mai and Sepio and their symbiosis, and the scientific explanation. I’m not convinced that anthropomorphising bacteria works very well, but the story may help some readers enter the world of the squid and its allies. The second section on symbiosis threads some of the fictional story into the explanation so that readers can match the two together. The science is fascinating in its own right – for example, bacteria communicate through ‘quorum sensing’, a concept that seems much more complicated than when Ali ‘talks’ to her friends. For budding scientists.
Reviewed by Pam Harvey