Microbiology Vigil: Probing What's Out There

Courtesy of Mary Ann Moran  THE MICROBE HUNTER: University of Georgia graduate student Justine Lyons uses new molecular approaches to study the diversity of bacteria and fungi in a coastal salt marsh on Georgia's Sapelo Island. An outbreak of Salmonellosis erupted in Ohio, Michigan, Georgia, and Alabama during the winter of 1981. Frustrated epidemiologists could find no common link, until they finally realized what all the victims had in common: marijuana.1 Samples of pot used by some pa

Jeffrey Perkel
May 4, 2003
Courtesy of Mary Ann Moran
 THE MICROBE HUNTER: University of Georgia graduate student Justine Lyons uses new molecular approaches to study the diversity of bacteria and fungi in a coastal salt marsh on Georgia's Sapelo Island.

An outbreak of Salmonellosis erupted in Ohio, Michigan, Georgia, and Alabama during the winter of 1981. Frustrated epidemiologists could find no common link, until they finally realized what all the victims had in common: marijuana.1 Samples of pot used by some patients in Michigan were tainted with Salmonella muenchen, which was phenotypically unremarkable, except for the presence of two low-molecular-weight plasmids. Genetic fingerprinting of these non-chromosomal DNAs tied the cases together, and even uncovered new incidents that investigators did not know were linked to the outbreak.

Twenty years later, this marriage of molecular biology and microbiology continues to evolve, as have the tools of the trade. In today's microbiology laboratory, loops and...