Natural Defense (Hardcover)

Enlisting Bugs and Germs to Protect Our Food and Health

By Emily Monosson

Island Press, 9781610917186, 200pp.

Publication Date: June 20, 2017

List Price: 30.00*
* Individual store prices may vary.


For more than a century, we have relied on chemical cures to keep our bodies free from disease and our farms free from bugs and weeds. We rarely consider human and agricultural health together, but both are based on the same ecology, and both are being threatened by organisms that have evolved to resist our antibiotics and pesticides. Patients suffer from C.diff, a painful, potentially lethal gut infection associated with multiple rounds of antibiotics; orange groves rot from insect-borne bacteria; and the blight responsible for the Irish potato famine outmaneuvers fungicides. Our chemicals are failing us.

Fortunately, scientists are finding new solutions that work with, rather than against, nature. Emily Monosson explores science’s most innovative strategies, from high-tech gene editing to the ancient practice of fecal transplants. There are viruses that infect and bust apart bacteria; vaccines engineered to better provoke our natural defenses; and insect pheromones that throw crop-destroying moths into a misguided sexual frenzy. Some technologies will ultimately fizzle; others may hold the key to abundant food and unprecedented health. Each represents a growing understanding of how to employ ecology for our own protection.

Monosson gives readers a peek into the fascinating and hopeful world of natural defenses. Her book is full of optimism, not simply for particular cures, but for a sustainable approach to human welfare that will benefit generations to come. 

About the Author

Emily Monosson is a toxicologist and author, a member of the Ronin Institute for Independent Scholarship, and holds an adjunct faculty position in the Department of Environmental Conservation at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. In recent years, her focus has turned toward the impact of industrial age chemicals and technology on food and medicine. Her most recent books are Natural Defense: Enlisting Bugs and Germs to Save Our Food and Medicine, Unnatural Selection: How We Are Changing Life Gene by Gene, and Evolution in a Toxic World: How Life Responds to Chemical Threats. She has published in The Scientist, Aeon, LA Times, American Scientist, and Whole Terrain in addition to academic journals and blogs somewhat regularly at

Praise For Natural Defense: Enlisting Bugs and Germs to Protect Our Food and Health

"Natural Defense guides us through a lively, provocative consideration of more ecologically balanced approaches to a disease-free future...Monosson presents a vision for a future in which we embrace our role in—and learn to harness the transformative potential of—the planet's web of biological relationships. In that humility, we may finally find the North Star on our journey toward a sustainable, healthy future." 

— Science

"Reading this compact, compelling book is mostly an uplifting experience—Monosson does, after all, spotlight solutions—but the environmental and public health problems for which they are designed can be formidable....With a willingness to stand back and look at the world in a different way, perhaps we will enter a new age of working with nature as we continue to improve human well-being."

— Earth Island Journal

"Monosson offers a positive outlook on the future of plant protection and our subsequent health benefits with innovative scientific advancements that look to germs and bugs to work with nature instead of fighting against it."

— Food Tank

"[Monosson] is a good writer, and this volume reads well and easily even by non-scientific readers."

— San Francisco Book Review

"A timely message of hope...[Monosson] argues that we can achieve better (i.e., more targeted and sustainable) outcomes to control pests and pathogens through new ecological understanding, technologically advanced diagnostics, and modern tools that harness the previously hidden powers of our microscale natural allies...a fascinating and thought-provoking read." 

— BioScience

"Despite the ravages described, the book sounds some optimistic notes promoting sustainability. This is about translational science taking research and technology from bench to bedside and farm field."

— Choice

"In Natural Defense: Enlisting Bugs and Germs to Protect Our Food and Health, Dr. Emily Monosson takes us on a tour of new technologies coming down the pipeline, based on biology and often high-performance computing rather than chemistry...Natural Defense is well-written and accessible, full of anecdotes and real-world examples and not too heavy on jargon."

— Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences

"An extraordinary study that is impressively 'reader friendly' in organization and presentation...unreservedly recommended."

— Midwest Book Review

"Monosson shows us how to borrow the best from nature and technology to protect people, plants, and the planet. A must-read for anyone looking for sustainable solutions for fighting infection and maintaining health."

— Daphne Miller MD, author of "Farmacology: Total Health from the Ground Up"

"In Natural Defense, Emily Monosson introduces readers to scientists grappling with both human and landscape health and trying to work with, instead of beat back, nature. A hopeful vision of how humans might thrive on this planet."

— Kristin Ohlson, author of "The Soil Will Save Us: How Scientists, Farmers, and Foodies Are Healing the Soil to Save the Planet"

"Our solutions to controlling pests and disease face a formidable foe: evolution. Monosson takes us on a clear-eyed tour of biological alternatives in both medicine and farming, which may help lessen our reliance on antibiotics, pesticides, and more. With deft prose and fascinating anecdotes, Monosson's survey of the latest scientific research leaves us in awe of humankind's ingenuity."

— Brooke Borel, author of "Infested: How the Bed Bug Infiltrated Our Bedrooms and Took Over the World"