Invisible Gladiators in the Petri Dish Coliseum

Over the past few months I’ve been working on a book on Escherichia coli (more on that later). To get a feel for how scientists work with the bug, I’ve been spending some time at the lab of Paul Turner at Yale. He sets up experiments to observe microbes evolve. His lab is full of freezers and incubators and flasks full of suspicious goo. One of his students gave me my first Petri dish of E. coli, which I brought home and put by my desk, where I could observe the colonies spread and then fade.

In addition to his work on Escherichia coli, Turner also studies viruses called phi-six that infect another species of bacteria. He experiments with them to watch how viruses shift hosts, cheat on one another, and go through other fascinating evolutionary changes. I’ve written an article on Turner’s work with viruses–and what it means for everything from flu pandemics to the tragedy of the commons– in the new issue of Yale’s alumni magazine. You can read it online here.