Medicine: Coiled Spring

Although the spiral bacteria, or spirochetes, that cause syphilis were identified in 1905 and have been stained and photographed thousands of times since, they have defied all the efforts of microbiologists to grow them in the test tube. Man is the only natural host of the microbes, called Treponema pallidum, but some animals, notably rabbits and monkeys, can be infected with them. Why then have they proved so resistant to cultivation in glassware?

Two Massachusetts researchers suggest that the answer lies in a simple mistake made back in 1905: when early researchers noted that...

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