It is one of the lowliest of nature's creatures, a rod-shaped beastie less than a ten-thousandth of an inch long. Its normal habitat is the intestine. Its functions there are still basically unknown. Yet this tiny parcel of protoplasm has now become the center of a stormy controversy that has divided the scientific community, stirred fears—often farfetched—about tampering with nature, and raised the prospect of unprecedented federal and local controls on basic scientific research. Last week the bacterium known to scientists as Escherichia coli* (E. coli, for short) even became a...

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