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October 24, 2017

The Moral Relativism of Microbes: To Be or Not to Be Virulent

Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching Finalist Lecture

Showing the The Moral Relativism of Microbes: To Be or Not to Be Virulent Video

As humans, we tend to think simplistically about microbes, anthropomorphizing them as either “bad guys”—the germs that cause disease—or as “good guys”—the single-celled organisms benefitting us and our world through their metabolic processes. The reality of microbes’ relationship with humans is, in Facebook parlance, a “complicated” one, fully embodying the spectrum from friend to foe. Indeed, the same microbe can be fickle about its virulence within a single human host, choosing to enhance the host’s life in one moment, then threatening to endanger its life in the next. 

In this talk, Heidi Elmendorf explored how a better understanding of the dynamics between microbes and their human hosts offer lessons for us from the very basics of evolutionary biology to applications for medicine and human health.

Heidi Elmendorf gave this talk as a finalist for the Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching, an initiative at Baylor University to recognize excellence in higher education. The talk was intended for all audiences, both scientists and non-scientists, and all faculty, staff, and students were welcome to attend and learn.

Heidi Elmendorf has been at Georgetown University since 1999 as a faculty member in the Department of Biology and is now a senior advisor to the president for equity in education. She has spent her research career studying parasitic diseases that primarily affect some of the world’s most underprivileged peoples, and her laboratory conducts translational research on Giardia.