INTERNATIONAL MICROBIOLOGY (2006) 9:1–7 www.im.microbios.org
Stanley Maloy* Moselio Schaechter
Center for Microbial Sciences, San Diego State University, San Diego, California, USA
The era of microbiology: a Golden Phoenix
Summary. The discoveries over the last decade have demonstrated that microbiology is a central scientific discipline with practical applications inagriculture, medicine, bioremediation, biotechnology, engineering, and other fields. It is clear that the roles of microbes in nature are so diverse that the process of mining this genetic variation for new applications will continue long into the future. Moreover, the rapid rate of microbial evolution ensures that there will be no permanent solution to agricultural, medical, or environmentalproblems caused by microbes. These problems will demand a continual stream of creative new approaches that evolve along with the microbes. Thus, the excitement of this field will continue long into the future. However, these opportunities and imperatives demand a deep understanding of basic microbial physiology, genetics, and ecology. Major challenges that lay ahead are to impart the broad trainingneeded to entice and enable the next generation of microbiologists, and to educate the public and government representatives about the continued and critical importance of this field for health and the economy. [Int Microbiol 2006; 9(1):1-7] Key words: development of microbiology · microbial ecology · microbial cell biology · integrative microbiology
Received 10 January 2006 Accepted 6 February 2006*Corresponding author: S. Maloy Center for Microbial Sciences San Diego State University 5500 Campanile Drive San Diego, CA 92182-4614, USA Tel. 1- 619-5947123. Fax 1- 619-5945676 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The development of powerful new technologies in the postWorld War II period led to a revolution in biology. The introduction of genetic tools such as transposons, coupledwith the ability to clone genes and determine DNA sequences, and the subsequent explosion of techniques based upon these methods made it possible to dissect the molecular genetics of essentially any organism. These developments allowed us to answer questions that were previously deemed unfathomable, and had a major impact on every discipline of biology. The study of microbes has particularlyprofited from these developments. It was previously only feasible to study details of microbial physiology of pure cultures growing in the laboratory. However, it is now possible to directly characterize organisms growing in
This article is based on the invited lecture given by S. Maloy, president of the American Society for Microbiology, at the 20th National Congress of the Spanish Society forMicrobiology on September 19, 2006, in Cáceres, Spain.
the natural environment, and to monitor the physiology of single cells under defined conditions. Advances in microscopy, nanotechnology, and structural biology allow the analysis of the underlying chemical mechanisms at a deeper and deeper level. In addition to enhancing our understanding of the biological world, these new developments have manypractical applications. The ability to study microbes in their own environment rather than the test tube, coupled with the ability to dissect the molecular details of microbial cells has made microbial biology pivotal to nearly all disciplines of science. To illustrate this point, we will discuss the key stages in development of microbiology and how new developments have led to what we refer toas the third Golden Age of microbiology .
The first Golden Age
The existence of microbes and their role in disease was guessed by ancient Greeks and demonstrated convincingly by a number of studies in the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries.
INT. MICROBIOL. Vol. 9, 2006
Despite what seems today like compelling evidence, most of these studies did not gain...
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