Featuring C-DEBI scientist Steve Finkel.


When my friend Steve Finkel and I get together, the talk is almost always about bacteria. He and I are both huge fans, from different angles. I’m a spectator. He studies them (E. coli) in his lab at the University of Southern California. I used to work down the hall from him, so I’m sure that some of my enthusiasm for the tiny creatures can be blamed on him, along with USC’s out-of-control microbe-lover Ken Nealson (Shewanella oneidensis is his bug, among others).

Single-celled though they may be, bacteria and other microbes are far from simple. They can thrive in hostile spots — from the acidic, low-oxygen environment of the stomach to boiling hot springs or frozen tundra. Some even breathe rock (see Nealson’s bug). They can adapt rapidly in rough times, switching their metabolic scheme or just going dormant. Bacteria have many admirable qualities that many of us would want for our children: grit, perseverance, flexibility and seemingly limitless creativity (albeit mostly biochemical).