Listening to Bacteria

By studying microbial communications, Bonnie Bassler has come up with new ways to treat disease

"Bacteria can talk to each other," says Bonnie Bassler. "Not only can they talk, but they are multilingual." And she knows how to speak their languages. (Richard Schulman)
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Members of her lab are clearly wedded to Bassler. Some have even been wedded by her. Last year, when Yunzhou Wei was planning his nuptials, he heard from another scientist at Princeton that Bassler was licensed to perform wedding ceremonies.

“I sent a dollar to a church on the Web, and I got the certificate,” Bassler says. “I’m sure it’s a complete tax scam.” She’d already officiated at two weddings and a baptism when Wei asked her to do the honors. “I’m a sucker,” Bassler sighs.

“We had 60 people come from all around the country,” says Wei. “Bonnie made a really good ceremony. It brought us all very close together.”

With people, as with bacteria, nothing is stronger than community, united in purpose by just the right words.

Natalie Angier is a Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer and the author of The Canon, Natural Obsessions and other books.


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