About They Breathe Iron

A patch of iridescent film appears on a river far from tankers and motorboats. An oil spill? Not likely, as readers discover in They Breathe Iron: Artistic and Scientific Encounters with an Ancient Life Form.

With text and photographs They Breathe Iron takes readers on a journey to discover what makes rust on a riverbed and the look of rainbows in a river. Science meets art in this first-person narrative about the iron-breathing bacteria that inhabit bodies of water all over the world. Focusing on Ohio’s Vermilion River, the book explains how these bacteria live and why we should care about them.

Linda Grashoff wrote They Breathe Iron from the viewpoint of a curious artist, incorporating scientific authority from two consultants: Eleanora Robbins, a biogeologist retired from the U.S. Geological Survey, and David H. Benzing, Robert S. Danforth Professor Emeritus of Biology at Oberlin College. David W. Orr, a leading thinker in the environmental movement, wrote the foreword.

Intended for a general audience, They Breathe Iron can be savored for its photographs alone—many of which have appeared in galleries as well as in juried and curated shows in the South and Midwest. But the text will appeal to readers who, confronted with natural beauty, seek to understand how that beauty occurs. Others will appreciate the revelation of one artist’s orientation to the physical world and the impact of that stance on her art.

The fourteen short chapters are:

• Colors in the Water
• Geological Beginnings and Biological Developments
• Iron Bacteria in the River
• When and Where You’ll See Them, When and Where You Won’t
Leptothrix discophora: A Multiplicity of Appearances
• Variety in Rusty Deposits
• Other Bacterially Transformed Substances in the Vermilion River
• How the Iron Bacteria Compare with Other Living Things
• Redox Cycles of the Iron Bacteria
• The Importance of Iron Bacteria
• My Photography
• The River
• More Than Photography
• Larger Issues of Place and Time

Included are the backstory, an appendix, endnotes, a glossary, and an index.