Lynn Margulis on the artifice of microbiology

The first thing to remember is that nearly all bacteria are multicellular in nature. when microbiologists put them in the laboratory, they want to grow them rapidly. They put them in pure culture — nature abhors a pure culture — and they end up selecting for single-cell existence; in other words, they select against all of the social interactions of bacteria. They select against the extracellular slime. And they end up with the freaks. Microbiologists form the worst religion of all, if you know them well, because they don’t admit that you cannot name a new bacterium without growing it in pure culture. Only if you eliminate so much of its interaction, and very often its multicellularity, will you be able to name them. Which means that many things are not named, because they are not allowed to be named. There’s so much nonsense in microbiology that was based on mixed cultures and slime and cheek cells and looking in your eyelashes for the origin of life, it’s incredible. The reason that there is no amateur group of microbiologists, like you have with the mycologists who study the shells, or the botanists who study the gardens. There is no amateur community in microbiology, so you have nutsiness cubed, because nobody can watch these people; there’s nobody with any reality orientation.

“The Basic Unit of Life: An Interview with Lynn Margulis” in The Politics of the Impure

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