I’ve always promised myself I wouldn’t work with anything living, a prohibition I applied first when, in high school, I job-shadowed a pathologist and fainted when watching a lung biopsy, fainted when seeing the wall of stored blood, fainted ad infinitum into the twenty-first century.
I couldn’t deal with watching pain, and I hadn’t considered that pathologists work not only with the dead, but with the suffering living, and with blood that is distinctly never where it ought to be. I’ve studied viruses for the past ten or so years, happy to research things that appear alive, yet are simply energized bits of rogue genetic material.
But for the past several months, I’ve been working on a new project, one that focuses on drug-resistant bacterial and fungal infections, and I can’t ignore the new relationships I have with living microbes that, like all of nature, can’t be characterized as good or bad. On the one hand, resistant strains are responsible for 23,000 deaths each year in the US, per the Center for Disease Control, yet their kin also let us digest our food and, back in the day, led to the emergence of an oxygenated atmosphere and all multicellular life. [Read more…]