In the Company of Microbes: Exposing Students to the Real World of Microbiology

Aug. 11, 2016

The renowned Small Things Considered (STC) blog began as a means to satisfy Dr. Moselio (Elio) Schaechter’s “insatiable itch of writing” over a decade ago. What started as a simple creative outlet has become one of the most popular blogs in the microbial sciences. The reason for STC’s success is not just due to its accessible, diverse content; it also has a lot to do with the blog creator himself. His expertise and experience, coupled with his frank and intriguing tone and voice, are what bring devoted readers back to his blog. His new book,  In the Company of Microbes, celebrates 10 years of great scientific content online by presenting Schaechter’s favorite, hand-picked selections from STC. 

“Introducing students to the excitement of the microbial world requires that they be exposed to its real world,” Shaechter said. In the Company of Microbes was designed to highlight the microbial sciences for students and to spark their interest in the field. 
The curated collection of blogs can stand alone or serve as a unique add-on for courses in microbiology, speaking specifically to students using clear language and basic approaches.
Textbooks that try to convey this type of message to students are hampered by the large amount of subject matter that they must present. As a complement, In the Company of Microbes opens the door to a world teeming with thrilling tales. Consisting of short articles, it shares vignettes from the laboratory and the environment. Written in a personal style, these articles engage the reader in actual experiences and convey cherished views and musings, including many by eminent microbiologists. Students will find that the book presents an intimate sense of the stirring and often awe-inspiring world of microbiology.
“My earliest yearnings for studying bacteria began at the age of 14, when I read Paul de Kruif's Microbe Hunters. This book is an exaltation of the early pioneers of microbiology, pretty much written for adolescents. Not only had I read the book, I had re-read it and memorized parts of it,” Schaechter remembered.
Elio’s formal entry into microbiology began in Latin America, where he began his studies and started working in the field and in the lab. He later worked with La LIFE in the Gal├ípagos Islands.
“My experience at La LIFE would later come in handy. I had learned how to make tissue sections and to examine them. This gave me a leg up on histology, the study of tissues, which has its own fascination. Had I stayed in Ecuador and finished medical school, I almost surely would have become a pathologist. I doubt that I would have become a regular clinician, with such a strong pull towards the laboratory,” Elio remembered.
In 1949, Schaechter immigrated to the U.S. and attended grad school at the University of Kansas. After earning an M.S. in bacteriology, he continued his studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned his Ph.D. in microbiology. He went on to a renowned career as a microbiologist, authoring and co-editing numerous publications focused on his research in growth physiology and bacterial cell organization. Elio’s work has been recognized in many ways, including his being named as a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology. He has also served as the President of ASM.
Schaechter’s intention for STC and In the Company of Microbes is to help readers gain insight into truly influential and historically important concepts. “For this collection, I scanned our archives and focused on material that one could broadly call musings—reflections on personal and historical interactions between the writers and microbes.”

Author: Contributor

The Education Board's mission is to educate individuals at all levels in the microbiological sciences. It supports both student and faculty development through fellowships, online publications, conferences, workshops, and institutes, and networking opportunities.