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Looking back to the future: historical microbiology available online

All good journeys must begin somewhere and scientific ones are no exception. Research into microbes, from disease-causing bacteria to cloud-forming plankton, is progressing at an ever increasing rate.

To understand where science is heading, we sometimes need to look back to where it began. Now, the Society for General Microbiology (SGM) has made the archive issues of the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology (IJSEM) available free online; they record some fascinating discoveries.

All issues of the journal dating back to volume 1, 1951 totalling over 25000 pages have been scanned and made available online, providing an important free resource for scientists, historians and the public. "This large project is a significant event in the history of microbial classification," said Dr Ron Fraser, Chief Executive of the SGM. "It will greatly benefit the scientific community to have this archive freely available worldwide."

For a new bacterium to be recognised its name must be recorded in IJSEM, which is the single official international forum for the publication of new bacterial species names. The journal publishes research papers describing and naming almost all newly discovered bacteria. The names of newly discovered bacteria published in other journals are not valid until they have been checked and published in IJSEM. The journal has officially validated the names of 9,263 species and genera since 1980.

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»IJSEM »bacterium

The list includes some important and ground-breaking discoveries. Earlier this year, scientists announced that they had made the first synthetic genome of a bacterium, dubbed Mycoplasma genitalium JCVI-1.0 but this would have been impossible without the work of earlier microbiologists.

The story started in the early 1980s when Dr Joseph G. Tully was working on an unidentified bacterium at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland, USA. "It was difficult to culture the bacterium and it took us some time to get to the point at which we could satisfactorily recover it from human tissue material," said Dr Tully. "Dr David Taylor-Robinson was responsible for the primary isolation of the organism.

Without his important contributions, nothing would have been known about Mycoplasma genitalium. Our subsequent work indicated the organism was pathogenic and was involved in sexually transmitted infections." Dr Tully and his colleagues published their findings in the IJSEM (then called the International Journal of Systematic Bacteriology) and Mycoplasma genitalium was officially named in 1983. This notable paper helped the scientists of today in their quest to develop synthetic life.

Other important discoveries first published in IJSEM include Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes Lyme disease and the hospital superbug Acinetobacter baumanii. The archive includes hundreds of species descriptions and many seminal articles in prokaryotic systematics and taxonomy that have never been available online before in full text.

Lucy Goodchild | alfa
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Further reports about: IJSEM bacterium

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