Science museum highlights impact of microorganisms

A new exhibit explores the importance of vaccines and antibiotics in fighting diseases.

By Susan J. Landers — Posted April 23, 2007

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It's a small world after all -- one teeming with microbes.

Viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites are featured in a new exhibit, "Infectious Diseases: Evolving Challenges to Human Health," at the Marian Koshland Science Museum of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C.

The exhibit provides an in-depth view of the microorganisms that surround us, the deadly diseases they can cause and the scientific challenges involved in defeating them.

Larger-than-life photos of regular folks doing everyday things provide museum visitors an opportunity to see where the microorganisms hitch rides: From the friendly bugs that colonize our guts to the anything-but-helpful viruses that lodge in our noses.

Another display demonstrates how a drop in vaccination rates can lead to an outbreak of a disease that was thought to have been vanquished. Examples from real life include recent outbreaks of measles and mumps in the Midwest.

Visitors can also explore the important role of antibiotics. A display, activated at the push of a button or two or three, illustrates how bacteria can eventually become resistant to these powerful medications.

The exhibit shows how HIV attacks the immune system and how antiretroviral drugs help mount a defense against this virus, which has caused a worldwide health crisis. In addition, it provides interactive kiosks on tuberculosis, malaria and cholera, other diseases with a global impact.

A panel of scientists from the National Academies drew on about 50 Institute of Medicine reports drafted over the last 15 years for exhibit information. It opened on March 31 and is scheduled to run through 2009.

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External links

Marian Koshland Science Museum of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., and its exhibit "Infectious Diseases: Evolving Challenges to Human Health" (link)

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