In opening up a hospital's disease time capsule, what could possibly go wrong?
114 years ago, someone at the Bellevue Hospital Medical College in New York City encased a glass vial full of bacteria in a cornerstone of the building. Yesterday, Dr. Martin Blaser, a bacteriologist and chair of the department of medicine at New York University, opened it.
What could possibly go wrong?
Apparently the bacteria, Clostridium perfringens, is capable of hibernating indefinitely. Dr. Blaser and his colleagues hope to compare the old microbes to the varieties found in modern humans' intestines. A lot has happened in the science of medicine between 1897 and today, including the discovery of penicillin. The Clostridium perfringens that exists today rarely makes people sick, but a hundred years ago it commonly caused infections that led to gangrene.
If the bacteria are still viable, they should start growing within the next 24 hours in the scientists' controlled environment. If all goes well, Dr. Blaser and his team will be able to learn a great deal about the way bacteria evolve, and the effects of our modern reliance on anti-bacterial substances on their growth and evolution.
[Image credit: Wikimedia Commons]
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- Martin Blaser
- Clostridium perfringens
- New York University