Born 200 years ago, Darwin’s revolutionary ideas were derived largely from his observations on life forms that evolved relatively recently, including various flowering plants, worms, birds and domesticated animals. Yet, life appeared on planet earth close to 4 billion years ago in the form of unicellular organisms collectively called bacteria. It was only shortly after “On the Origin of Species” was published (1859) that the “germ theory” of infectious diseases was formulated. Microbes (viruses, bacteria, fungi and microparasites) received scant mention in Darwin’s writings, although pioneers of the Golden Age of Bacteriology, such as Louis Pasteur (1822–1895), were contemporaries. Today, microbes offer extraordinary testimony and powerful model systems of direct relevance to the essentials of Darwinian selection, such as understanding microbial–host interactions, the evolution of pathogens and the emergence of drug- or vaccine-related resistance.
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