ATLANTA—Are academic microbiology departments suffering from the increased attention being paid to molecular biology and related disciplines? Scientists at the recent annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology here could not agree if the issue was simply a semantic argument or a symptom of a genuine crisis.

"A number of forces are converging to create a problem … and together they may deal us a blow that could be lethal" to the future of microbiology, suggested M. Michael Sigel, chairman of the department of microbiology and immunology at the University of South Carolina. Sigel lamented the lack of "momentum, interest, commitment, people and funding" in microbiology departments at medical schools and universities nationwide, and said departments were "losing their identities" to other fields in biology.

But Richard A. Finkeistein, chairman of the microbiology department at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, claimed that the evidence for such a...

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