6,000 strains of bacteria under 1 roof

By Jennifer Pinkowski

In the winter of 1915, Pvt. Ernest Cable arrived at the No. 14 Stationary Hospital in Wimereux, France, in bad shape. The British army’s soldiers stationed on the Western Front of World War I were being ravaged by a variety of microscopic enemies. For Cable, it was Shigella flexneri, the bacterium that causes dysentery.

A military bacteriologist named Lt. William Broughton- Alcock took a sample of S. flexneri from Cable’s body after he died on March 13, 1915. It was likely kept alive in agar, sealed under paraffin wax, and was eventually renamed NCTC 1 when it became the very first specimen added to Britain’s National Collection of Type Cultures, the oldest library of human bacterial pathogens in the world devoted to sharing strains with other scientists. The collection turned 100 this year.

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