Nimble bugs outmaneuver slow-moving humans

In the battle against infectious disease, microbes have the upper hand, said Joshua Lederberg, Ph.D. ’47, who shared the 1958 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his studies of bacterial genetics. In an address to the Associates of the Cushing/Whitney Medical Library in April, Lederberg noted that while the human immune system was set in stone between 50 and 100 million years ago, bacteria can evolve every few years. “The pace of microbial evolution vastly outstrips that of large, ponderous, slow-reproducing multicellular organisms like ourselves,” he said. Humans, he continued, must find a way to coexist in “domesticated equilibrium” with microbes. “We ought to be looking at the world from the bug’s eye view if we want to figure out how to live with them.”

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