The bacterium that causes cholera has joined the elite club of organisms whose genomes have been sequenced. Since 1817, seven pandemics of cholera have left millions dead from the dehydration caused by relentless diarrhea. But the disease has been noted for at least 1,000 years.

"Cholera is one of the most ancient diseases we know about. Its home is the Ganges delta in India and Bangladesh; it has a long history there. It became a worldwide disease in 1817, when the first pandemic started. The disease spread to the Middle East and Europe, to South and North America and Africa. We are now in the middle of the seventh pandemic. Cholera is everywhere, in 75 countries, on all continents," says Bradley Sack, a professor of international health at Johns Hopkins University.

Robert Koch identified the pathogen whose toxin causes cholera in 1883. But cholera left its stamp on human...

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