Bonnie Bassler is a professor of molecular biology at Princeton University. She has made important discoveries about quorum sensing, or the process by which single-cell bacteria communicate with one another. She hopes to use quorum sensing to create anti-microbial drugs to counteract bacteria. For her work, she received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2002 and the National Academy of Sciences elected her one of its members in 2006. She wakes up prior to 6 a.m. everyday to teach an aerobics class.. because otherwise she would just be lazy.
Question: When you see a kid pick food off the floor and eat it, what do you think?
Bonnie Bassler: I think good, he is educating his immune system, right, and so, yes, so, you know, I think that somehow people, kids are covered with bacteria and you are covered with bacteria, so I am not a proponent of not getting the kids vaccinated, of not taking baths and washing him, of course, of reasonable hygiene, right, that is sort of how I live. I’m not hysterical about it and what I do think, what I really think, I think the human body is amazing. It is amazing at how well it works to make us so infrequently sick. People don’t die from infectious diseases in this country, they don’t, right, a few thousand people die a year from infectious diseases and most of them are old people, right, whose immune systems are not working so well, right? So the human body, given the sort of environment we, and I mean Americans by that, listen, it is amazing at protecting us, and the bacteria are helping with that, the good ones, the ones that are on us, so I don’t, this might get you, too, I don’t use those anti-- I mean, I work with bacteria every day, purposely work with gobs of bacteria every day, all day, it’s not quite that bad, but we don’t use those antibacterial soaps, soap is fine. You know, like I think, I just know, I’m always eating it, I’m always rubbing my eyes, I’m always and I am mostly well.
Question: What is your advice to parents?
Bonnie Bassler: Not relax, I think you have to be vigilant, I think you have to expect your kid is going to get sick over his or her young life, that is part of how you give them a nice immune system, so later, when your body is not healthy, you are better at coping with those things. But I think, you know, there are seven billion of us and most of us live in conditions that are so much less hygienic than Americans live in, right, I think it is a system that works.
Recorded on: 6/17/08