The Arts of the Microbial World: Fermentation Science in Twentieth-Century Japan
by Victoria Lee
University of Chicago Press
Cloth: 978-0-226-81274-8 | eISBN: 978-0-226-81288-5

ABOUT THIS BOOK | AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY | TOC
ABOUT THIS BOOK
The first in-depth study of Japanese fermentation science in the twentieth century.

The Arts of the Microbial World explores the significance of fermentation phenomena, both as life processes and as technologies, in Japanese scientific culture. Victoria Lee’s careful study documents how Japanese scientists and skilled workers sought to use the microbe’s natural processes to create new products, from soy-sauce mold starters to MSG, vitamins to statins. In traditional brewing houses as well as in the food, fine chemical, and pharmaceutical industries across Japan, they showcased their ability to deal with the enormous sensitivity and variety of the microbial world. 

Charting developments in fermentation science from the turn of the twentieth century, when Japan was an industrializing country on the periphery of the world economy, to 1980 when it had emerged as a global technological and economic power, Lee highlights the role of indigenous techniques in modern science as it took shape in Japan. In doing so, she reveals how knowledge of microbes lay at the heart of some of Japan’s most prominent technological breakthroughs in the global economy.

At a moment when twenty-first-century developments in the fields of antibiotic resistance, the microbiome, and green chemistry suggest that the traditional eradication-based approach to the microbial world is unsustainable, twentieth-century Japanese microbiology provides a new, broader vantage for understanding and managing microbial interactions with society.

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