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UH Researchers Analysis of Influences of "Good" Bacteria Leads to Recommendation for New Focus in Teaching of Biology

Perspectives of UH scientists on this new biological frontier featured in current issue of Science magazine

University of Hawaiʻi
Edward Ruby, (808) 539-7309
Kewalo Marine Laboratory
Margaret McFall-Ngai, (808) 539-7310
Kewalo Marine Laboratory
Posted: Feb 27, 2004

Scientists know far less about the thousands of "good" bacteria that allow humans and other complex organisms to function normally compared to the few dozen microbes that cause disease. This determination has begun explorations into what is being called a new biological frontier, according to University of Hawaiʻi researchers Edward Ruby and Margaret McFall-Ngai.

It has also led to scientists‘ recommendation that biology be taught in a new way, incorporating the growing knowledge about the importance of beneficial microbial interactions and their evolutionary, ecological, and biochemical impact on both animals and plants. An article featuring Ruby and McFall-Ngai‘s perspectives on this issue, together with Brian Henderson of University College in London, is featured in the Feb. 27 issue of the journal Science.

Initial discussions amongst researchers at a recent workshop that explored the influence of beneficial bacteria on animal host biology have raised many questions and led to the beginning of new studies as well as the analysis of the current methods for teaching biology. Specifically, researchers questioned what effect the impact of humans on global ecosystems may have on the internal ecosystems of animals. For example, environmental influences, such as the misuse of antibiotics, may create an imbalance amongst normal bacteria that actually brings on disease. Also, widespread vaccination efforts have purposely eliminated normal microbes without understanding of their significance.

Scientists hope that future research will foster exchanges between many disciplines and will continue to apply developing technologies and computational approaches in determining outcomes as this new biological frontier becomes established.

NOTE TO MEDIA: Dr. Ruby and Dr. McFall-Ngai are out of town for the next week but are available via e-mail to answer any questions — Edward Ruby,; Margaret McFall-Ngai,