A Library of Diseases

Happy Tuesday, Friends.

JdM, a friend of this blog, recently shared with me a New York Times article describing ‘A Living Library Filled With Killer Bacteria.’ The library they are speaking of doesn’t have bookshelves or reading nooks. Instead, it’s Britain’s 100-year-old National Collection of Type Cultures, which contains 6,000 strains (or variants) representing more than 900 species of bacteria that can infect, harm, and even kill humans. There are at least 800 collections of bacterial, viral, and fungal cultures world-wide and the sheer number of specimens in these libraries serve to remind us of the diversity of microbes around us. As the article quotes Stephen Jay Gould, an evolutionary biologist: “On any possible, reasonable or fair criterion, bacteria are — and always have been — the dominant forms of life on Earth.” It’s a sobering thought.

It also begs the question – why would anyone keep these possibly deadly microorganisms stored (securely) away – likely in carefully labeled tubes in cryo (cold) storage? There are many reasons. These libraries are often authenticated and can serve as references to help scientists and public health organizations identify viruses, bacteria, and fungi in their laboratories. Studying the genetics of closely related variants of the same microbes can also shed light on microbial resistance and how and why viruses and microbes mutate. Ultimately these reference cultures can help scientists develop treatments and vaccines against pathogens – both old and new.

I’m sure, even now, cultures of COVID-19 are being carefully notated and stored away for future studies.

What do you think about these culture collections? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment box, below.


  1. Jean De Muzio

    Let’s not forget to mention that Covid-19 is a virus not a bacteria. Are they banks of viruses too in the world?

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