Jerry Malayer is a Professor in the Department of Physiological Sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine and an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Oklahoma State University. He also serves as the Associate Dean for Research & Graduate Education in the College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Malayer’s research involves diagnosis, mitigation and control of bacterial pathogens and host-pathogen interactions.
Why Do We Do Research on Infectious Microbes?
Scientists estimate there are upwards of one trillion species of microbes on earth. This diverse population including viruses and bacteria is collectively called the microbiome, and it extends to every corner of the earth. Of these trillion species, about 1,400 are known human pathogens, able to cause injury or death; others are pathogens of animals, fish, birds, and plants. But in a world with a trillion species, where scientists have counted only one one-thousandth of one percent, how likely is it researchers have identified everything that might threaten us? Not likely.
Understanding what these microorganisms do, how they do it, and how they spread helps researchers develop measures to detect, mitigate and control their expansion. Such measures are crucial to human and veterinary medicine. We need to understand how pathogens adapt, move from host to host, spread into new areas and infect new populations; are affected by conditions of weather and climate, even terrain; what variations develop over time; and what effective control measures can be developed.
Think about all we have learned in the past century about how to prevent diseases based on understanding the microorganism responsible, where it is in the environment and how it overcomes humans’ natural defenses.
While patterns in nature provide clues, the tremendous diversity of the microbial world and the rate at which these organisms evolve new strategies for their own survival makes it imperative to study and understand each one. As we learn more, there’s more chance researchers can apply that knowledge to emerging threats.
Microorganisms are the most abundant form of life on the planet and extremely important to the health of the biosphere. In general, people have adapted to their presence, and vice versa. Some have capacity to do real harm, it makes sense to study as many as scientists can now, before the next threat emerges.