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Microbes, molecules & mucus.

Symbiosis | sym|bi|osis | noun (pl. symbioses)

interaction between two or more different organisms living in close physical association, typically to the advantage of each.

The Scale Free Network is on a mission to advocate for the rights and roles of microbes. The art-science collaboration's most recent book, Zobi and the Zoox, begins with a manifesto:

"Over the last 4 billion years, microorganisms have shaped our Earth into the biosphere we know and love--rich in biological and geological diversity. Through a range of symbioses (some brief, some lifelong), microbes have collaborated with all types of life on Earth to create new, emergent forms, including human beings. While some symbioses cause harm, most bring benefits to all involved. The idea that life evolves through competition is only part of the story. Life is just as much about working together."

Set on the Great Barrier Reef, Zobi and the Zoox is a story of symbiosis between microbes and larger forms of life. Zobi is a brave rhizobia bacterium whose home is under threat from a warming ocean. She teams up with the Zoox, a family of slow but steady zooxanthellae marine plankton. When the ocean gets too hot, the coral becomes gravely ill and the bacteria around them begin to starve. Zobi and the Zoox must work together to save the day.

The book aims to get us thinking about microbes. Bacteria are not just germs--enemies we should eradicate. Very often, symbiotic relationships are ones of cooperation, not competition. Symbiosis happens on a microscopic scale, but also on a planetary scale. Most forms of life survive by working together.

Zobi and the Zoox is the second book from Scale Free Network, a collaboration of writers, artists, scientists and educators based in Melbourne. Their first book explores a different symbiotic relationship--one between a squid and some bacteria. The Squid, the Vibrio & the Moon tells the story of a newborn bobtail squid, Sepio, who has not yet learned glow. His dark shape is obvious in the moonlit water, and all kinds of dangerous predators lurk nearby. Some intrepid bioluminescent bacteria, Ali and Mai, undertake a dangerous journey from the seawater to a special light-organ inside the squid. Sepio offers them food and safety and in return they work together to camouflage Sepio so he glows brightly in the moonlight.

Symbiosis happens on a microscopic scale, with microbes, molecules and mucus. It also plays out on a planetary scale. Most forms of life survive by working together--us humans, too.

Zobi and the Zoox and The Squid, the Vibrio and the Moon are available online at and at a growing number of bookshops across Australia:

Scale Free Network is Dr Gregory Crocetti (Microbial Ecologist) and Briony Barr (Art Director), working with Aviva Reed (illustrator) and Ailsa Wild (writer)

fishy facts

CORAL REEFS are among the most diverse ecosystems on Earth. Occupying less than 0.1 per cent of the world's ocean surface, they are home for over 25 per cent of all marine species.

CORAL BLEACHING is the massive loss of photosynthesising zooxanthellae from most coral polyps within a coral colony. It's triggered by environmental stresses including physical extremes of temperature (both too hot and too cold), extreme UV light, chemical stress caused by fertiliser or herbicide runoff from farms, freshwater runoff after cyclones and some chemicals from sunscreen.

CORAL REEFs around the world dominate shallow seawater environments where there are very few nutrients. Nothing can be wasted (it's a little like living in a space station). Within each coral polyp, the microbes play a crucial role in recycling all molecules containing nitrogen, sulfur and phosphorus.

BENEFICIAL SYMBIOTIC partnerships like the one in Zobi and the Zoox are common in coral reefs. The low nutrient conditions make it essential for life forms to work together efficiently, to use what little food is available. Some of the many examples of symbiosis include clown fish with anemones, cleaner shrimp with fish, sea slugs solar-powered by cyanobacteria, and sponges--the microbial hotels of the reef.
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Title Annotation:Zobi and Zoox
Publication:Habitat Australia
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Mar 1, 2015
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