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Inside the Inaugural Microbial Olympics

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With global attention focusing on London for the Games of the 30th Olympiad, a parallel competition of superlative ability has gone largely unnoticed. I’m referring, of course, to the Microbial Olympics, a truth-based but (largely) fictional test of microbial abilities published in Nature Reviews Microbiology.

For the contributors, it’s an exercise in extreme – and occasionally cringe-inducing – punnery: Bacillus Bill and Salmonella Sam serve as announcers, and a spherical contestant is said to be “feeling cocc-y”.

A summary of the events and their respective winners:

The Sprint, which rewards the species with the fastest rate of division. E. coli pulls ahead with a doubling time of 17 minutes, but the bacteriophage virus comes out of nowhere to take the gold.

Boxing, in which microbes engage in chemical warfare via antimicrobial molecules. In the final between Pseudomonas aeruginosa and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, the former is disqualified for the use of “performing-enhancing small molecules,” giving the top prize to the latter.

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