What's New in the World
Issue No. 19 "Microbes"

June/July 1997

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Story by Mary K. Miller

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For hundreds of thousands of years, microbes have evolved to take advantage of their human hosts. Our bodies are complex ecosystems that house thousands of bacteria and other microbes, most of which are harmless, if not helpful, to us. But a few types, such as Salmonella, the bacteria species responsible for food poisoning and typhoid fever, can cause sickness and sometimes death. The "black plague," one of the most fearsome diseases in human history, is caused by a bacteria that is spread to humans from the fleas of infected rats. Untreated, the infection is nearly always fatal; during the middle ages, the plague was responsible for killing three-quarters of the population of Asia and Europe in just twenty years.

Many microbiologists who study pathogenic, or disease-causing, microbes concentrate on the microbe itself, looking for specific genes that cause infection and disease. But for Stanley Falkow, a professor at Stanford Medical School and the incoming president of the American Society of Microbiology, that reductionist approach is not very satisfying. He prefers to spy on the microbes in action, watching their guerrilla warfare with host cells as it unfolds. Using a video camera attached to a high-powered microscope, Falkow and his colleagues are looking at how bacteria invade our cells and what they do once they're inside.

Microbe Spy



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About This Issue:
We hope you find the subject of "Microbes" as interesting as we do. If you'd like to find out more and are in the San Francisco area please visit the Exploratorium's "Hidden Kingdoms: The World of Microbes" exhibition. This exhibition allows visitors to peer into this world in a hands-on way to discover how and why we are so dependent on microbes.

"Hidden Kingdoms" runs from June 1st until September 7th 1997. For more information about "Hidden Kingdoms," please read the press release.

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