Chapter 2 : Domesticating Microbes

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Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch discovered that microbes can cause many diseases, and this led to immediate practical applications for controlling diseases. The Rockefeller institute for medical research served as a “workshop of science” where scholars could develop knowledge of the nature and cause of disease as well as methods for prevention and treatment. The phenotypic expression of the bacteria was not the result of natural selection or genetic mutation but rather a biological adaptation leading to compromise and accommodation. The S III enzyme showed remarkable potential for curing type III pneumonia. The first trials using the enzyme involved testing it in mice as systemic therapy, that is, injecting it into circulating blood following intradermal infections that caused bacteremia or blood infections. Dubos turned from his studies on the S III enzyme of pneumococci to studies where he tried “to isolate new enzymes for other types of pathogenic microbes,” very likely one to attack the hemolytic streptococci. Serum therapy against pneumonia halted completely once penicillin became widely available in the 1940s. Dubos’ research in the development of antibiotics taught medical science the principles of finding and producing antibiotics and opened an interdisciplinary approach that drew on microbiology, chemistry, pharmacology, pathology, and medicine. Dubos’ discovery of the S III enzyme that dissolved the capsule further extended the reverse, reductionistic process of discovery.

Citation: Moberg C. 2005. Domesticating Microbes, p 21-66. In René Dubos, Friend of the Good Earth. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555817565.ch2
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