Dr. Rita R. Colwell
National Science Foundation
Plenary Lecture: "A Global Passport for Microbiology"
American Society for Microbiology Annual Meeting
Salt Lake City, Utah
May 19, 2002
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Thank you, Abigail1,
for the very kind introduction.
When I addressed the American Society for Microbiology
general meeting in Chicago three years ago, during
the 100th anniversary of ASM, I was relatively
new as director of the National Science Foundation.
At that time I surveyed some of the cutting-edge discoveries
in microbiology. I also sketched a vision for our
field that embraced discovery across the scales of
complexity, drawing connections between our field
and the rest of science, engineering, mathematics
Looking back since then, the world has changed. Microbiology
has hit the front pages with anthrax, smallpox, and
re-emerging infectious diseases.
The National Science Foundation has changed also. It
is now recognized, more than ever, as contributing
to a sound economy, national security and social stability.
The NSF budget has increased by 50% and continues to
grow. Graduate stipends have nearly doubled and biocomplexity
is no longer enigmatic but instead is a vital program
for understanding our environment.
Mathematics is richer, both in funding and discovery.
These are just a few highlights. It's been a wonderful
earth at night, with title]
(Use "back" to return to the text.)
Since that meeting in Chicago-specifically, since September
11-our world has grown dramatically smaller, yet our
responsibilities have deepened. Le Monde
said it best with the headline: "We are all Americans!"
Our vision of the possible must also expand in step
with microbiology's enormous promise. Anchored in
a century-long tradition of discovery in service to
society, we are poised on a journey to ever-greater
I have titled my talk "A Global Passport for Microbiology"
to underscore both the global science of microbiology
and our global responsibilities.
Science and engineering have always flourished across
national borders, but today's global scale of research
is unprecedented. New ideas and new discoveries emerge
regularly around the world.
International partnerships may be the only way to fund
cutting-edge facilities too costly for any single
nation, and many disciplines require access to sites
in other nations. Especially as research grows increasingly
interdisciplinary, more scientific questions become
global in scope.
Since our questions, in particular, grow in import
to our well-being on this planet, we can dare to hope
and indeed to strive for what I call "microbial diplomacy."
Microbiology today stands, quite fittingly, as a microcosm
for the globalism of science and technology as a whole.
One-third of ASM members come from outside the U.S.,
and appropriately so.
Just as microbiologists work across national boundaries,
we increasingly surmount scientific boundaries to
interact with other disciplines. Also, pathogens themselves
do not carry passports, but move freely around the
globe. These boundary-crossings are the themes I will
of dust storm off N. Africa]
Here we see graphic evidence of the free flow of natural
forces. A dust storm-in this case, originating in
West Africa-surges out over the Atlantic Ocean. Charles
Darwin himself, while sailing on the HMS Beagle off
North Africa, noted heavy dust at sea.
Deep-sea sediments provide a record that tells us this
dust transport in the Atlantic dates back many thousands
The African dust carries with
it billions of microorganisms-many fungi, bacteria,
and viruses, among them pathogens of both humans and
plants 3, as
well as organisms of benefit to agriculture and ecological
Dust from the Gobi Desert recently swept over Japan
and on to the west coast of the United States. Research
on dust transport of microorganisms is in its infancy,
yet the phenomenon underscores the smallness of our
As microbiologists, our historical legacy of international
cooperation survived even the darkest days of conflict
between nations. Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch were
known for their rivalry in the race to isolate the
cholera "germ," as it was referred to in those times.
Less known is that when a valued assistant of Pasteur
contracted cholera and died in Egypt, Robert Koch
himself helped to carry the coffin.
As my former student-now a Harvard historian--Eric
Kupferberg observes, "Pasteur and Koch understood
that their rivalry was a matter of national pride
and ego, but not a matter greater than life and death."
After World War I, the first reconciliation of scientists
from any discipline occurred between French and German
researchers in Paris in 1927.
It was there that the International Society for Microbiology
was founded, on the principle that "the sciences unite
the nations in an ideal of inalterable peace and constant
By 1947, there was a condemnation of biological warfare
by the 4th International Congress of Microbiology.
And in 1970 in Mexico City, at the 10th
International Congress for Microbiology, another resolution
was passed condemning biowarfare and research on it.
Mexico City was an epiphany, of sorts, for me. It was
the first International Union of Microbiology Societies'
congress I attended. It launched my international
career in microbiology. And there, microbiologists
reaffirmed their position against biological warfare...after
September 11, 2001, the need to defend ourselves against
bioterrorism became very obvious.
Again, I would like to thank Eric Kupferberg for the
reminder of these landmark events, recorded in his
historical review of microbiology.
Today microbiology is also crossing scientific boundaries,
revealing fantastic new worlds wherever we turn, and
contributing new hope to sustaining our planet.
I plan to explore some microbiological frontiers in
the environment, and then turn to some puzzles of
infectious disease, including my own work on cholera,
that are solvable only in a broader ecological context.
Finally, against this global backdrop, I'll discuss
how we might view our changing responsibilities in
the aftermath of September 11, both at home and abroad.
at undersea vent]
To set the stage for considering how the revolution
in microbiology contributes to sustaining life, I
would like to make a quick visit to the depths of
the ocean, to visit the exquisite mineralized chimneys
called "black smokers" that form around the hydrothermal
vents on the seafloor and tower over dense communities
We are all familiar with the submarine vents. They
were discovered twenty years ago. Creatures there
live without photosynthesis-relying on microorganisms
They exemplify microbial diversity even in the most
extreme environment. These hot springs in
the deep sea may prove to be the wellspring
for life on our planet.
The footage we will see-never seen in public before-was
taken very recently with an IMAX camera inside the
submersible Alvin, and will be part of an upcoming
The National Science Foundation has supported Alvin
from its earliest days, and we also helped to support
the film I will show you. The footage shows vents
in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. So let's
visit the vents.
around undersea vents; video clip not available.]
Genomics, for the first time, offers the possibility
to identify "what's out there" ---such as what lives
in these rich communities around the vents. Although
microorganisms constitute more than two-thirds of
the biosphere, they represent a great unexplored frontier.
Of bacterial species in the ocean, even today less
than 1 percent have been cultured. Just a milliliter
of seawater holds about one million unnamed cells.
Last November, scientists, partly funded by NSF, sequenced
DNA at sea for the first time. It came from vent organisms
about two miles deep in the Pacific Ocean.
With NIH, we at NSF are now looking into how to connect
this fundamental research to human health. For example,
we know little about what happens to pathogens in
the marine environment.
Indeed, many of us have hypothesized-and produced some
evidence-that seafloor sediments may provide a long-term
reservoir for pathogens.
On another note, from my own unpublished research,
we have very recently identified bacterial strains
of the genus Vibrio at hydrothermal vents
in the Pacific Ocean.
The molecular evidence suggests that these new Vibrio
isolates share many properties of Vibrio cholerae,
the organism that causes cholera. This work is being
prepared for publication in collaboration with Anna-Louise
Reysenbach, Erin Lipp, Irma Rivera, and colleagues
and students from my laboratory.
These findings epitomize the new vision of microorganisms
as sustainers of the biosphere and as the source of
living diversity; indeed, as our very own progenitors.
Microorganisms teach us a lesson of great humility.
In the words of Edward O. Wilson, "We have only begun
to explore life on Earth." As he says, "The vast majority
of the cells in your body are not your own; they belong
to bacterial and other microorganismic species."
[Tree of Life]
As described by one of our discipline's foremost revolutionaries,
Carl Woese, a new microbiology arrived on the doorstep
of the new millennium. He notes that "...the universal
phylogenetic tree...[provides] Biology as a whole
with a new and powerful perspective, an image that
unifies life through its shared histories and common
Gone are the notions that life should be divided into
five kingdoms or bisected into prokaryotes and eukaryotes.
Thanks to Woese, all of life can be depicted in a
universal, phylogenetic tree, based on ribosomal RNA.
The division of the tree into three domains reveals
that the vast history and diversity of life is microbial,
offering powerful ramifications for sustaining our
planet, understanding emerging infectious diseases,
and many other applications.
E. coli evolution fig.]
This figure depicts genes flowing in and out of the
E. coli chromosome over time. As we now know, microorganisms
evolved by sharing their genomes to a startling extent.
NSF heads an international program to assemble the
genealogical Tree of Life, including tracing the web-like
connections among lineages that result from horizontal
gene transfer. We expect the tree will do for biology
what the periodic table did for chemistry and physics--provide
an organizing framework.
This new framework adds a powerful tool to the approach
I call biocomplexity. The term describes the study
of complex interactions in biological systems, including
humans, and between those systems and their physical
We know that ecosystems do not respond linearly to
environmental change. We also know that understanding
demands observing at multiple scales, from the nano
to the global. Complexity principles emerge at various
levels, whether studying a cell, a human body, or
With the perspective of biocomplexity, disciplinary
worlds intersect to form fuller, more nuanced viewpoints.
digital and bacterial evolution]
The synthetic perspective of biocomplexity brings surprising
insights into the process of evolution. In a project
supported by NSF, Richard Lenski at Michigan State
has joined forces with a computer scientist and a
physicist to study how biological complexity evolves,
using two kinds of organisms--bacterial and digital.
Lenski's E. coli cultures are the oldest of
such laboratory experiments, spanning more than 20,000
Here the two foreground graphs actually show the family
tree of digital organisms--artificial life--evolving
On the left, the digital organisms all compete for
the same resource, so they do not diversify and the
family tree does not branch out. On the right, the
digital organisms compete for a number of different
resources, and diversify.
In the background are round spots--actually laboratory
populations of the bacterium E. coli, which
also diversified over time when fed different resources.
In vivo derives insight from in silico.
in Arctic sea ice]
Many disciplines have converged to let us probe the
diversity of microbial life, even in the most extreme
Here, from the work of Jodi Deming of the University
of Washington and her student Karen Junge, are bacteria
from the Arctic Ocean, apparently active in brine
channels at -20° C.
We are beginning to learn about organisms living at
the critical interface of water and ice.
[Image is not available.
At the other end of the world, viruses have been found
deep within Antarctica's ice sheet. These images,
from John Priscu of Montana State University, show
viruses isolated from different depths in the ice
beneath Vostok Station. The ice yielding the viruses
ranges from 5000-240,000 years old.
The lower-left image is from the deepest ice that accreted
from Lake Vostok water at 3655 m depth. That virus
looks intriguingly different than the others. DNA
tests are planned this summer.
In Antarctica, the biocomplexity rubric spurred the
development of a new detector for microbial life within
Buford Price, a University of Berkeley high-energy
physicist, was working on an international project
to detect neutrinos from space, using a detector buried
within the ice sheet.
While assessing the light-transmitting qualities of
the ice, Price wondered whether the detector could
also search for fluorescence from microbial life.
Antarctic tests showed promise; the device will be
further refined in Greenland this summer.
In another unexpected intersection, Price and colleague
Andrew Westphal used a long-duration balloon to study
cosmic rays above Antarctica. The "ellipse filter"
they developed to identify elliptical tracks of cosmic
rays has been turned in a surprising new direction:
to detect anthrax.
optical sizing graph]
Bacillus spores are also ellipsoidal and about a micron
in size. The graph shows that four Bacillus species
cluster into distinct populations. The team hopes
to test the device in mailrooms.
endospore size vs. humidity/two clicks]
Another twist found by Price's group is that a sudden
increase in relative humidity makes anthrax spores
grow rapidly in size. Understanding this phenomenon
may shed light on why a gaseous decontaminant such
as chlorine dioxide kills spores only when relative
humidity is between 70 and 90%.
Charting biocomplexity requires understanding across
the frontiers of space and time, again underscoring
the importance of the international dimension.
NSF supports a Long-term Ecological Research Network
across the United States and beyond. The map shows
countries with LTER networks and those planning to
develop them. The LTER program meshes the microbial
view with the satellite view, encompassing all levels
Remote sensing and information technology give us powerful
tools to integrate information collected over the
scales of space and time.
As put by University of New Mexico ecologist Jim Gosz,
using this technique-high-resolution spectral imagery-is
like seeing the landscape through a microscope instead
of a hand lens.
This "hyperspectral cube," as it's called, shows 224
spectra for each pixel on the ground, in this case,
distinguishing between different species of grasses,
creosote bush, and bare ground. The technique can
be used to identify stressed vegetation or to track
invading species, pathogens and disease.
We need a much richer understanding of how organisms
react to environmental change. Today, we simply do
not have the capability to answer ecological questions
on a regional to continental scale, whether involving
invasive species or bioterrorist agents.
In this context, NEON--the planned National Ecological
Observation Network--will be invaluable. This is a
schematic portrayal of NEON, an array of sites across
the country furnished with the latest sensor technologies.
Here's an imaginative rendition of a NEON site fully
instrumented (with apologies to the artist Rousseau).
Networks such as NEON require state-of-the-art sensors
of every type.
Such a site will measure dozens of variables in organisms
and their physical surroundings. All the sites would
be linked by high-capacity computer lines, and the
entire system would track environmental change from
the microbiological to the global scales.
Quite another frontier is the very small, and it is
poised to spur momentous changes in our field and
The living cells we work with all the time--as microbiologists--have
employed nanotechnology for billions of years. The
implications of nanotechnology for biology and medicine
Nobelist Richard Smalley at Rice University describes
nano as having two sides-wet, or biotechnology, and
dry, the non-living world.
In his view the wet-dry interface is the ultimate frontier.
For example, if a water-soluble molecule shrouds a
carbon nanotube, it could theoretically be inserted
into blood plasma or a cell's cytoplasm.
re-emerging infectious disease slide]
Not only science crosses borders these days. Emerging
and re-emerging diseases pose another challenge of
In 1962, Nobelist Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet wrote,
"One can think of the middle of the 20th
century as the end of one of the most important social
revolutions in history-the virtual elimination of
the infectious disease as a significant factor in
Today, of course, infectious diseases are the leading
cause of death in the world, ranking third in the
United States. Even in Northern Virginia, for example,
a "gateway" state for immigration, tuberculosis is
on the rise. Drug-resistant strains compound the problem.
As one author put it, "The worst bioterrorist may
be nature itself." 4
My own research on cholera exemplifies
the incorporation of interdisciplinarity, international
cooperation, and the importance of understanding the
ecology of a pathogen.
I would like to show a brief video that conveys some
of the complexity of working on Vibrio cholerae.
It suggests a way to work with our colleagues around
the world that goes beyond "parachute science" to
genuine collaboration. Now, the video.
[Video is not available.
Bay cholera sampling sites slide]
In the 1970s, my colleagues and I realized that the
ocean itself is a reservoir for V. cholerae,
including V. cholerae 01, when we identified
the organism in water samples from the Chesapeake
Our latest results using molecular methods and in
situ sampling in the Chesapeake show a patchy
distribution of some vibrios and seasonal abundance,
in association with zooplankton fluctuations.
SST and SSH]
In Bangladesh, we discovered that cholera outbreaks
occur shortly after sea surface temperature and sea
surface height peak. This usually occurs twice a year,
in spring and fall.
Furthermore, after a century without a major outbreak
of cholera, a massive Vibrio cholerae epidemic
occurred in the Western Hemisphere in the El Nino
year of 1991, starting in Peru and spreading across
South America. Thus, a linkage of cholera with El
Nino events was discovered.
[deer mouse and Sevilleta landscape; image is not
An excellent illustration of the biocomplexity approach
is a story of an outbreak of disease that will be
familiar to many.
The carrier of the hantavirus, a new pathogen in the
Four Corners area of the United States, turned out
to be the deer mouse pictured here.
Biologists working at a Long-Term Ecological Research
site, led by Terry Yates of the University of New
Mexico and his team, and funded by NSF, were able
to detect the deadly virus in mouse tissue that had
been archived years before.
As it happened, Native American legends corroborated
a history of outbreaks. In addition, the investigators
showed a link between El Nino and the outbreak of
[phylogeny of hantaviruses; image is not available]
Hantaviruses generally have evolved closely with their
rodent hosts. Looking at this phylogenetic tree, on
the left we see various viral strains, and on the
right the rodent species that host each one.
[hantaviruses in North and South America; image
is not available]
Here we see a map of New World hantaviruses. All but
one have been discovered since 1993. They were here
all the time but we just didn't know it.
[Canyon del Muerto; image is not available]
In New Mexico, Canyon del Muerto, pictured here peppered
with red dots, seems to be a likely place for hantavirus
to "hide" for years between outbreaks. It will be
interesting to learn what role this virus plays in
Let's now focus the lens of biocomplexity on two other
emerging and reemerging diseases, whose tales are
interwoven with ecological change and climate patterns.
ENSO, malaria and Venezuela]
The first is malaria, a disease ripe for the perspective
of biocomplexity. Forty years ago, we thought we had
defeated human malaria. Today, hundreds of millions
of people are infected each year, and in Africa, two
children die from malaria every minute.
Among vector-borne diseases, malaria is one of the
most sensitive to climate. We see here the linkage
to El Nino.
Models of avian malaria in Hawaii provide a microcosm
with lessons for the more complex global issues of
Neither malaria nor mosquitoes are native to the Hawaiian
Islands. The project team studying avian malaria is
led by David Duffy of the University of Hawaii.
Hawaii has lost about three-quarters of its bird species
to extinction since humans arrived. Diseases like
malaria are a major current threat to the rainforest
As urbanization encroaches on the forest, mosquitoes
gain habitat. Learning the complexities of scale and
time, and of integrations among host, vector and environment,
should lead to better models of malaria.
Duffy says, "There may be some interplay of malaria
and host genetics with climate that we can exploit
to save the last Hawaiian birds, while providing a
paradigm to manage human malaria."
The malaria genome-an especially tough nut to crack-should
be completed this year.
Influenza, one of the most deadly of the reemerging
diseases, also has undiscovered environmental complexities.
Climate is suspected to shape the seasonal cycles of
influenza in some way. Outbreaks fluctuate greatly
from year to year.
[U.S. Life expectancy:
1900-1960, from Taubenberger]
Here we see the impact the Spanish flu had on life
expectancy in the United States (and I would like
to thank Jeffrey Taubenberger of the Armed Forces
Institute of Pathology for providing information on
Overall, the 1918 epidemic killed from 21-to-50 million
We know that influenza "changes its cassette" almost
with every sneeze--it is constantly evolving, at great
speed, and subtle mutations let the virus infect those
who had it before.
chicken and swine on icebergs]
Human influenza A originated in birds, but is closely
related to that of swine, and is thought to have jumped
from birds to swine to humans. Crossing species to
a new host, the virus evolves much more quickly. As
this "tip of the iceberg" graphic suggests, we have
much to learn about influenza's complexities.
Understanding the complexity of our entire planet and
communicating among nations are vital to facing the
challenge of emerging and reemerging diseases. The
same infrastructure can be used to detect outbreaks
of disease, whether natural or deliberate.
As said recently in the journal Lancet, "...In
an electronically interconnected world...about 65%
of the world's first news about infectious disease
events now comes from informal sources, including
press reports and the Internet."
[Our new responsibilities...slide]
I turn now to my third theme, our new responsibilities
in the context of homeland security and bioterrorism.
Homeland security is a chimera unless we begin to
truly see the entire planet as our home.
I would like to step back for a moment to September
11, which helped to reset our priorities and responsibilities.
Presidential Science Advisor Jack Marburger commented
that after "nine-eleven," other agencies talked about
what they could do, while NSF talked about what we
I would like to show a brief video of the World Trade
Center site that illustrates one immediate search
and rescue effort. Here it is...
[1.5-minute video of robots at Ground Zero; video
is not available]
We will be seeing small, shoebox-sized robots that
were deployed in the rubble by the search and rescue
teams just a day after the attacks.
They were developed by robotics experts from the University
of South Florida. The development was originally funded
We can see a tethered robot crawling down a sewer--an
example of how these robots can penetrate and report
from spaces that may be too small or too dangerous
for human rescue workers.
The tethers have a range of 100 feet, well beyond the
seven feet of extension offered by the fire department's
At one point we can see a simulated grid appear--that
helps to orient and direct the robot. The robots helped
to find five victims and another set of human remains.
We made a number of grants across the disciplines of
science and engineering related to homeland security:
- Computer modeling of Ground Zero is helping to
understand why the Twin Towers collapsed, and
how to tackle the environmental problems at the
- Social scientists are studying public opinion
in the U.S. and the Middle East before and after
September 11. Others have analyzed how people
responded psychologically to the disaster.
- From mathematics comes a technique, borrowed from
classical fluid dynamics, to restore a damaged
photo-perhaps applicable in surveillance.
- Look at the subway ticket with the purple thumbprint.
This subway ticket is embedded with nano-detectors
that can sense explosive residue on a customer's
- New genetic markers have been found for anthrax
from the whole-genome-sequencing just completed
and funded by NSF. They distinguish the Bacillus
anthracis isolate used in last fall's bioterror
attack in Florida, clearly demonstrating the value
of microbial sequencing as a tool against bioterrorism.
As microbiologists we are not used to being on the
frontline of national defense. The ASM has reposted
on its website the society's declaration against involvement
in biological weapons.
headline about anthrax researcher]
Areas of microbiological research, formerly obscure,
now appear routinely in front-page headlines.
in her lab]
Theresa Koehler, a microbial geneticist at the University
of Texas Medical School, is shown here; she has studied
anthrax for 20 years.
The red arrow points to a new piece of equipment added
to her lab in addition to the safety hood and microscope:
that's the surveillance camera, the dark globe embedded
in the ceiling, that records what happens in her lab.
Theresa recalls her reaction on hearing of the anthrax
attacks; she was greatly angry, she said "that someone
would use a microorganism-my organism-to kill people.
It was absolutely horrifying to me."
On the positive side, she believes the aftermath brought
into the public eye the value of what microbiologists
do, and raised her research area to greater attention.
[Category A pathogens-from
Anthrax, of course, is on the list of pathogens considered
to be of greatest concern as bioweapon threats.
On the grand scale, we have relatively little experience
with these pathogens, yet terms like "asymmetric warfare"
-meaning that deadly methods are available even to
a single individual intent on perpetrating a mass
attack-are becoming common currency.
We know that harmless organisms might be engineered
into virulent ones. Unfortunately, we have a very
small academic research base.
The anthrax attacks also jolted us into realizing that
we have an inadequate public health system. Our health-care
facilities could easily be overwhelmed by a smallpox
Whether we consider bioterrorism or infectious disease,
we cannot protect just our own nation. It's not enough
to produce smallpox vaccine only for the United States.
These are global threats-and require a new perspective
on "microbial diplomacy."
You will see a headline from a recent Economist:
"Secrets and Lives."
headline: "Secrets and Lives"]
Some security measures may restrict research that helps
protect against bioweapons. As The Economist
article said, "Knowledge is power...But exactly what
knowledge needs to be controlled depends on who these
enemies are...Scientists cannot build on each others'
results if they do not know them."
headline, May 8, 2002]
Another recent headline, this one from the Washington
Post, reports a new mechanism being created to
evaluate foreign students applying for visas.
How do such restrictions match up with the fact that
our workforce is becoming increasingly globalized?
As Presidential Science Advisor Jack Marburger pointed
out at NSF just last week, "The research we rely on
for our national security is being done around the
In the meantime we grapple with how to balance security
and the reality that our higher-education system and
our workforce have strong international ties.
fig. 2-20, p. 2-33; S&E degrees earned by foreign
students within each field]
Here is a quick snapshot demonstrating this global
character of science and engineering. As an example,
almost half of the engineering degrees in the U.S.
are earned by foreign students, and over 45% of math
and computer science PhDs.
[What work will
buy: selected cities]
The global dimensions of security become clear when
inscribed on a larger canvas. This chart shows the
minutes of work needed to buy a kilogram of bread
or rice-the top line-and a hamburger, the bottom line.
The shorter the bars, the less time needed.
The long bars show that even basic foods are luxuries
for the poor. What is more, this economic disparity
is growing worldwide-more than doubling between the
richest and poorest from 1960 to 1995.
Insights from the social sciences will become ever
more critical to this broader perspective.
earth at night changing to earth by day]
Today I began with some of the revolutionary changes
in microbiology, changes that can be leveraged manyfold
in unexpected directions as we explore the convergence
of our discipline with the rest of science and engineering.
Whether looking at environmental sustainability, infectious
disease, or security, we must consider more fundamentally
how to incorporate the needs of the developing worlds
into scientific progress.
After the First World War, Jules Bordet, the first
president of the International Society for Microbiology,
said, "During the ghastly period we have traversed,
while other sciences lent to the task of destruction,
it is this one, ours, that...remained nevertheless
still capable of dedication and kindness...More than
other sciences, ours can be a peaceful force that
preaches to [all] the mutual aid and the concord..."
Today, in the United States, we are eager to engage
our younger generation of scientists and engineers
in forming closer bonds throughout the world via research
We dare hope that international cooperation at its
best will catalyze the partnerships among nations,
even into coming generations. More now than ever,
we need such efforts that transcend national borders
and cultural divides.
Throughout geological history, microorganisms have
been the most powerful force on our living planet.
In our era, human beings have become a geophysical
force in our own right.
Now as keepers of a kind of Promethean fire we ponder
the flame we guard, remembering that "Prometheus"
literally means "fore-thought"-thinking ahead.
Facing challenges on a global scale, we need that prescience
- to move from reaction to prediction at the frontiers
of complexity, and ultimately to prevention. With
the legacy of tradition to build upon, and the breathtaking
promise of our science, I believe we will meet the
Saylers, ASM president. Return to speech.
2. p. 24, Geotimes,
Prospero. Return to speech.
3. U.S. Geological Survey
study. Return to speech.
4. Frederick Cohan,
Wesleyan Univ., Newsday, 11/18/01. Return to speech.