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Chapter 4 : Creators of the Future

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Abstract:

Our partnerships with microbes offer new tools to meet difficult challenges—overcoming antibiotic resistance, cleaning up our environment, and feeding the growing world population. Each challenge presents us with difficult questions and the possibility of unintended consequences, including the ultimate challenge—the possibility that our new tools may be turned against us. This section talks about the various research conducted by using technology to arrogate to ourselves an increasing share of the earth's resources. It discusses the search for antibiotics in nature and its limitations. Scientists around the world are working on solutions based on a new understanding of the microbial mechanisms for keeping life running—that one creature's waste is often another's banquet. If antibiotics are used properly, in a controlled fashion, and when prescribed only by physicians, they will have a much longer useful life. One way of securing our health and well-being is to look to the microbial community itself for help. Scientists speculate that there are many novel compounds yet to be discovered among the microbial world's inhabitants. We will need to increase global food production by another 50% in the next 50 years just to stay even with global population growth. We have traditionally created plants with desirable traits through selective breeding.

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4

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Bacterial Cell Wall
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Toxic Shock Syndrome
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Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Alexander Fleming, working in his laboratory, inadvertently left the cover off a dish in which he was growing pathogenic bacteria. He noticed spots where specks of mold were growing and the bacteria were not. The growth-inhibiting mold turned out to be , the common bread mold, and the compound it produced was penicillin.

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 5

An alien microbe approaches other microbes as they enjoy a meal.

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 6

The alien secretes its own brand of antibiotic, dispersing its competitors . . .

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 7

. . . thereby gaining access to their food and space.

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 9

Antibiotics fed to animals, sprayed on fruit trees, or taken to cure the common cold encourage the emergence of antibiotic-resistant pathogenic bacteria.

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 10

Crowding facilitates the spread of disease among people and the consequent likelihood that resistant organisms will be passed to others and thrive.

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 11

Scientists hunt for novel antibiotic-producing microbes in soil samples near Chernobyl, Ukraine, the site of a major nuclear accident in 1986.

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 12

Yuri Gleba, a Ukrainian scientist, examines the branch of a pine tree whose genes have been altered by radiation.

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 13

Ukrainian scientist Elena Kiprianova examines samples of microbes grown from the soil around the site of the Chernobyl disaster.

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 14

The Ukrainian scientists have successfully grown several thousand species of microbes from around the world.

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 15

“What the combined Ukrainian/U.S. program offers is the chance to link two very different sciences—the classic and the modern—and actually have more knowledge in combining those two sciences.”

—Jennie Hunter-Cevera

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 16

Scientists at the University of British Columbia collect samples of soil from a park in Vancouver.

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 17

The DNA of the soil microbes is extracted, cloned, and then inserted into microbes that can be grown readily in the laboratory, in the hope that their new genes will yield new antibiotics.

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 18

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 19

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 20

Microbes secrete chemical signals . . .

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 21

. . . that fellow microbes recognize.

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 22

When their numbers reach a critical mass . . .

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 23

. . . they release new, and sometimes damaging, chemicals.

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 24

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 25

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 26

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 27

Building nuclear weapons generated large quantities of radioactive waste that must now be stored. Microbes resistant to such high levels of radioactivity may play a role in future cleanups.

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 28

The government defense plant at Savannah River, Georgia, is one of the (United States superfund sites. Sites like these are heavily contaminated and pose a threat to the environment.

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 29

Environmental scientist Terry Hazen examines gauges at the Savannah River, Georgia, superfund project site.

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 30

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 31

A methanotroph lives on methane in the soil but is capable of eating some 250 other organic compounds in a pinch.

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 32

In metabolizing methane and other chemicals, methanotrophs release carbon dioxide and salt.

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 33

Scientists at Savannah River, Georgia, drove long pipes below the area of pollution . . .

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 34

. . . and pumped in methane gas, which bubbled up and allowed the natural population of methanotrophs in the soil to increase rapdily.

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 35

When the gas was turned down, the dense population of microbes was forced to turn to the pollutants as their food source.

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 36a

In landfills, the microbial decomposition of trash is slow due to lack of oxygen. Hazen and his colleagues stimulated the microbes' growth by turning over the materials and pumping in oxygen, making a huge compost pile. In short order the microbes converted the trash to simple organic compounds, carbon dioxide, and water.

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 36b

In landfills, the microbial decomposition of trash is slow due to lack of oxygen. Hazen and his colleagues stimulated the microbes' growth by turning over the materials and pumping in oxygen, making a huge compost pile. In short order the microbes converted the trash to simple organic compounds, carbon dioxide, and water.

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 37

“It's sort of interesting that the microbes . . . the smallest of God's creatures, have the greatest potential for curing the greatest problems.” —Terry Hazen

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 38

The microbes convert the trash to simple organic compounds, and the waste products—carbon dioxide and water—are released into the air.

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 39

Managing toxic wastes with the help of microbes is an increasingly attractive industrial practice. Here, workers at the IBM chip manufacturing plant in Vermont use sophisticated monitoring devices to control for leaks and use microbes to turn their solvents into benign substances.

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 40

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 41

We are entering an era where we are accomplishing with biologic methods tasks formerly done by machines.

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 42

The oil spill in Alaska highlighted the need for better ways to clean up petroleum and the many toxic chemicals that it contains. The spill was the first time that nutrient enrichment was proven to speed the naturally occurring microbial degradation of oil.

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 43

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 44

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 45a

The cassava mosaic virus damages the leaves of the plant, reducing its productivity by 90%.

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 45b

The cassava mosaic virus damages the leaves of the plant, reducing its productivity by 90%.

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 46

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 47

Victor Masona, a Zimbabwean biologist, instructs the villagers about infected leaves.

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 48

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 49

“It can be very frustrating that the plants are sitting in the lab in California. 1 cannot proceed with the testing and introduction of genetically engineered cassava if the regulations that guide this sort of introduction are not in place.”

—Victor Masona

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 50a

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 50b

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 50c

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 50d

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 50e

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 50f

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 50g

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 50h

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 50i

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 51

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 52

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 53

The monarch butterfly's breeding range includes the corn growing regions of North America—regions where Bt corn has become an important agricultural crop.

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 54

Milkweed is the favored food for hungry monarch caterpillars. Whether the caterpillars would be endangered by stray Bt corn pollen lighting on the plant remains a difficult question.

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 55

New genes introduced into tobacco plants may turn a health hazard into a factory of the future.

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 56

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 57

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 58

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 59

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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Figure 60

Citation: Needham C, Hoagland M, McPherson K, Dodson B. 2000. Creators of the Future, p 137-178. In Intimate Strangers. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555818159.ch4
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