For a 51-year career as one of the great microbe hunters of all time — he discovered the molecular nature of antibiotic resistance, revolutionized the way we think about how pathogens cause disease, and mentored more than 100 students, many of whom are now distinguished leaders in the fields of microbiology and infectious diseases.
The 2008 Lasker~Koshland Award for Special Achievement in Medical Science honors one of the great microbe hunters of all time. In his 51-year career, Stanley Falkow (Stanford University) discovered the molecular nature of antibiotic resistance and revolutionized the way we think about how pathogens cause disease. He mentored more than 100 students, many of whom are now distinguished leaders in the fields of microbiology and infectious diseases. Falkow invented and exploited new techniques to study how bacteria pass traits to one another and pioneered the use of recombinant DNA technology and other molecular methods to untangle the details by which bacteria survive and spread. He made seminal breakthroughs in understanding causative agents of numerous maladies (including diarrhea, plague, ulcers, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, food poisoning, whooping cough, urinary tract infections, and sexually transmitted diseases) and influenced important advances in public health and in medical and agricultural practices.
At age 11, Falkow stumbled across a copy of The Microbe Hunters, Paul de Kruif’s book that describes the first microbiologists’ explorations. Entranced by the world in which tiny creatures from pond water and bodily fluids wriggle under microscopes and provoke devastating epidemics, Falkow decided that he wanted to emulate those pioneers.
Award Presentation by Stanley Cohen
Recently, I re-read The Microbe Hunters, Paul De Kruif’s classic book about scientists and discoveries that provide the foundation for current knowledge about the microbial world. The book recounts medical research from Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, the 17th-century inventor of the microscope and the first person to actually see bacteria, to Louis Pasteur, Robert Koch, Paul Ehrlich, Elie Metchnikoff, and others. De Kruif’s classic was published in 1926; if updated for this century, Stanley Falkow would surely merit inclusion in the pantheon of great microbe hunters. During a scientific career that has spanned more than five decades, the magnitude and breadth of Falkow’s contributions to an understanding of how microbes cause disease and become resistant to the antibiotics used to treat infections have made him a giant among microbial biologists.
Acceptance remarks by Stanley Falkow
Acceptance remarks, 2008 Lasker Awards Ceremony
When I was a boy, I looked out into the star-filled sky one night and was awestruck by its beauty. I had just learned in school about how distant these points of light were and the idea of a universe. And I thought, “But what’s beyond that?” I believe it was at this moment that I became a scientist. A few days later, I happened on a book called Microbe Hunters and became equally enchanted by the stories of microbes and their role in disease. It dawned on me that I wanted to explore this hidden universe.
Interview with Stanley Falkow