The Loom

Over the past few months I’ve been working on a book on Escherichia coli (more on that later). To get a feel for how scientists work with the bug, I’ve been spending some time at the lab of Paul Turner at Yale. He sets up experiments to observe microbes evolve. His lab is full of freezers and incubators and flasks full of suspicious goo. One of his students gave me my first Petri dish of E. coli, which I brought home and put by my desk, where I could observe the colonies spread and then fade.

In addition to his work on Escherichia coli, Turner also studies viruses called phi-six that infect another species of bacteria. He experiments with them to watch how viruses shift hosts, cheat on one another, and go through other fascinating evolutionary changes. I’ve written an article on Turner’s work with viruses–and what it means for everything from flu pandemics to the tragedy of the commons– in the new issue of Yale’s alumni magazine. You can read it online here.


  1. #1 fred dijs
    May 27, 2006

    dear sir,

    once a microbiologist/molecular biologist, M.Sc., myself, i have always been wondering why i did not see emerging a new species of microbe in the cultures of, for instance, e. coli i produced.

    mutations, yes. but that’s like having your car pimped.

    but a new species, no. the car never became a bicycle. or vice cersa.

    news would be that phi-6 became e. coli or vice versa. or, to be slightly more modest, that phi-6 became a plantvirus or e. coli. let’s say, a campylobacter. but we’re far from that.

    i am not a believer, except that i’m convinced that we know very, very little of almost nothing.

    and i must confess that, as long as i don’t see emerging new species in my cultures, i personally consider the theory of evolution -and, for that matter, the theory of everything as well- as belonging to parts of science that are essentially religious. metaphysical if you wish.

    so, please allow me some disappointment after reading your article. i really hoped to really hear about the real emergence of a new species. i didn’t.


    fred dijs

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