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How medicine created a bacteria problem

On a warm afternoon in summer we were sitting in the lecture theatre, learning about germs. A microbiologist was showing us slides of enormously magnified bacteria (“God, this is like bug Imax!” said the girl behind me). The lecturer had a cold; he was coughing dramatically. After a prolonged bout he hawked into his coffee cup. “Now that’s how TB spreads,” he said, studying the contents. “God, that’s absolutely disgusting,” said my neighbour.

Later on, in the lab, we had to behave more decorously. “Try not to splutter everywhere,” said the microbiologist, handing out Petri dishes. We were going to grow some germs. After a week, we were able to view the harvest. There were streptococci, chains of circular bacteria, easily remembered as looking like the queues of sweets in a packet of Strepsils. And there was Staphylococcus aureus, forming the round, golden colonies that its name suggests, one of the most common bacteria that coexists with humans, and now one of the most problematic.

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