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The Pathogeneral

Researcher says infectious diseases are more threatening than bioterrorism.

Stanley Falkow doesn’t want to scare you, but he probably will anyway. As a veteran research general fighting the battle between microbes and man, the 70-year-old professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford University has tinkered with everything from plague and AIDS to salmonella. Working mostly at Stanford, he was a pioneer in fusing clinical bacteriology with molecular biology; his work with microbes provided some of the basic findings that Herb Boyer and Stanley Cohen used to develop recombinant DNA technology. More recently, using model organisms and human cells, Dr. Falkow has described how pathogens and their hosts interact at the biomolecular level, and how to design drugs and vaccines that counteract infection.

Stanley Falkow; Copyright © 2004 Acumen Sciences, LLC, All Rights Reserved.A famous mentor, he is also curmudgeon-in-chief of the post–September 11th microbiology world. He worries that a preoccupation with bioterrorism may distract attention from more likely outbreaks, like a more virulent and infectious form of SARS, or a reëmergence of old horrors like cholera or typhoid.

“The greatest threat to U.S. security is not bioterrorism but a global health crisis from a new or existing pathogen,” he says. He fears resources won’t be available when needed. About $3 billion per death has been spent on researching anthrax since the October 2001 outbreak, he says, compared with $30,000 per death on influenza.

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People

Tom Cech

» Stanley Falkow

Heino von Prondzynski

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